Thursday, June 28, 2018

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: June 2018

It is getting hotter, series are surpassing the midway points and days are getting shorter. The one thing that is always overlooked with the start of summer is it marks the start of shorter days, losing daylight and yet it was the time from childhood we were conditioned to celebrate. Oh, how cruel of this world to con us into believing the worst was behind us when the slow decline was only getting started.

Social commentary aside, we had Le Mans. IndyCar had four races. NASCAR had some races. MotoGP still hasn't been to the Netherlands. Formula One returned to France. The World Cup is more than halfway over. A lot has happened. A new story pops up every thirty seconds and the proliferation only increases in July. The rumor mill does not slow even when suffering a drought.

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 11 headlines and after inconceivably being shut out in May, IndyCar leads off this month.

Rossi admits Detroit error but "conceding a win isn't going to happen"
That sounds great but in the long haul you got to know when second is good enough and second would have been good enough for Alexander Rossi in the second Belle Isle race. There is this false sense of bravado that winning is all that matters and you should want to win every race and winning is all that matters and that is stupid. Think big picture. What is the best for the big picture? Consider the consequences. Rossi was going to gain points on all his title rivals regardless of if he finished first or second. He would have scored ten fewer points in second than if he had won but Ryan Hunter-Reay was a distance behind Rossi and give him ten more points would not have been the end of the world.

Two races later, Hunter-Reay and Rossi are tied. Congratulations, you didn't concede a victory, I hope you are happy for your ego. It might have cost you a championship.

IndyCar: Tony Kanaan isn't excited to run at Texas
Race car drivers should be honest and I think we appreciate their honesty but boy can they exaggerate. I don't blame Kanaan for being worried no passing would occur at Texas this year but many were quick to point out how everyone thought there would be a lack of passing before the 2017 race and the 2017 race turned out fine. Drivers and teams did not have enough information to know how the race would turn out at Texas and that is the case at a few other venues. We think one thing and get the opposite. Everyone thought Barber would be terrible and every year has produced excellent racing. Mid-Ohio has turned into a competitive racetrack; even Belle Isle is much more interesting than it was during the days of CART and the IRL.

I am not going to say race car drivers shouldn't say a race will not have passing or be boring but I think it should be noted when it is a knee-jerk reaction. Fans hate hearing about PR and sometimes a driver has to break rank to get a point across but it wouldn't a bad thing if drivers are educated about their words and the ramifications they could have and if they were encouraged to think before speaking.

What next for Alonso after Le Mans win?
The rest of the Formula One season and the rest of the FIA World Endurance Championship season.

Montoya: "I had no idea how cool Le Mans would be"
So what did you think it would be?

The one thing I have always noticed about Montoya is he has never been awestruck and I think that is part of the reason for why he is one of the greatest drivers of all-time. He didn't enter Indianapolis Motor Speedway covered in goosebumps. It was more of a shoulder shrug. He got on the tour bus and did a lap and the rest of history.

I don't want to say he has no respect for history but he doesn't let history affect his emotions, which makes his response to Le Mans surprising and refreshing. I don't know if it is his age, I don't know if it was because he was racing in LMP2, I don't know if it because of how limited his schedule has been compared to previous years but I wouldn't have been surprised if he was asked about the atmosphere at Le Mans and said he didn't really notice it considering he has experience the circuses of Formula One and NASCAR. It speaks to how special Le Mans is and how the entire build up differs from the other great motorsports events around the world.

Why the Formula 1 Stars are invading Le Mans
Let's settle down on this one. Fernando Alonso went to Le Mans because he has McLaren in the palm of his hand and can get whatever he wants. Nico Hülkenberg went in 2015 because Alonso wasn't allowed to go at that time, Force India had little control over stopping him and Porsche had an open seat. Outside of Alonso, no other active Formula One drivers were at Le Mans. The stars aren't invading Le Mans.

There was a litter of former Formula One drivers at Le Mans but let's not act like this shows how great Formula One drivers are and other motorsports series can't pass them up. Most of them were kicked to the curb faster than you can blink. Formula One didn't want Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Kaumi Kobayashi, Giedo van der Garde, Bruno Senna, Pastor Maldonado, Will Stevens, Paul di Resta, Felipe Nasr and Jean-Éric Vergne. And Juan Pablo Montoya and Jenson Button were done with Formula One. You don't get to claim any driver with experience in the series as your own when many have been elsewhere for the last few years.

Vinales: "Yamaha promised I'd win, not fighting satellite Ducatis"
To be fair, you have won with Yamaha. It has been a while since you won with Yamaha but you did win a few races, three to be exact. I am sure after you won three of your first five starts with the manufacture it seemed like victories would come at a regular pace. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. And you are also fighting satellite Hondas and your previous team, the factory Suzukis and you are fighting the satellite Yamahas so it isn't just satellite Ducatis.

NFL star Russell Wilson: Montreal F1 "reminded me of Super Bowl"
Which one, the blowout against Denver or the one where you threw an interception at the goal line? Because this year's Canadian Grand Prix resembled both. Sebastian Vettel kicked everybody's ass from the get-go and the FIA blew it at the finish.

Sirotkin seat discomfort woes finally "sorted"
I am glad it took eight races to get the seating figured out. Williams is having a rough year. I am glad Sergey Sirotkin is now comfortable in his car while over two and a half seconds slower than the leaders.

NASCAR could place more limits on Cup drivers in other series
It is kind of exasperating the slow squeeze NASCAR has on Cup drivers in the lower two national touring divisions and while I support limited participation I think NASCAR should have set it and left it. It was set, Kyle Busch and the #22 Team Penske Ford kept winning, the limit was dropped. Kyle Busch and the #22 Team Penske Ford kept winning and now we are at a point where Cup guys keep winning and everyone wants the limit dropped again.

We underestimate the equipment. It isn't necessarily the driver but the combination of the driver and the car. I think back to Andy Lally finishing fifth at Mid-Ohio driving for SS-Green Light Racing last year. That car did not have a top ten finish all season prior to that race and it didn't finish in the top twenty in the rest of the season. It would be more interesting to see the likes of Busch, Keselowski and Larson in that car in the Grand National Series than a Cup-esque team running in the lower division. It is not going to happen, you can't legislate it and even if you did they would find a loophole.

Keselowski: NASCAR All-Star package encourage drivers to quit NASCAR
No, it wouldn't dumb ass. Brad Keselowski is going to be a senator sometime because he is great at exaggerating bullshit. Drivers aren't going to quit. Why? Money. Drivers aren't all of a sudden going to turn down a multi-million dollar salary in NASCAR because of the aero package and go run IndyCar or sports cars to make a fraction of the money. It is not like a half-dozen drivers could decide Formula One is now the better option and somehow find the funding to fill the seats at Williams or Force India. Dumb ass.

Drivers follow the money. Kyle Larson loves racing a sprint car but it doesn't fill his coffers nearly as much as driving in NASCAR. He knows that. He isn't going anywhere. If he has the ability to make millions of dollars he is going to make millions of dollars even if the aero package isn't what he prefers. Drivers aren't going to turn down the money for some bullshit greater good that the racing isn't pure. They aren't doing it now. They will happily continue cashing the checks.

In search of Team Penske racing legend Mark Donohue
I was going to come up with some smart aleck remark that you aren't going to find him because he is dead but I knew this article wasn't some kind of scavenger hunt and this is actually a beautiful story about a great racing mind lost at a young age, the son following his father's faded foot steps and the legacy of a driver who does not get nearly as much praise as he deserves because his numbers are not flashy in IndyCar or NASCAR or Formula One. If you haven't read this article yet go read it.

June is almost over, summer is here and the end of July will at the door with the setting sun.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Series Don't Make Drivers Great

I got to admit, we had nothing but beat downs this weekend from Road America to Circuit Paul Ricard to Sonoma. None of the races were close. The second Pirelli World Challenge race was good and the first World Superbike race from Laguna Seca was respectable. The most interesting thing might have been the traffic at Circuit Paul Ricard. It will not be clear until next Thursday and there are abandoned cars littered across Southern France. Team Penske is seven victories away from 500 victories as an organization. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Series Don't Make Drivers Great
Fernando Alonso won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and then travelled south to Le Castellet for the French Grand Prix and finished... It was the second time in as many years the Spaniard went to an unfamiliar place and was one of the best drivers on track. While his Indianapolis 500 debut did not end with as such a glorious result as his Le Mans debut, he did impress plenty, earning him a standing ovation and confirmed his standing as one of the best drivers in the world.

On the same top step stood Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, two drivers who have won championships in multiple different disciplines as well as many races in the FIA World Endurance Championship. However, neither is put on the same level as Alonso. The major difference is Formula One.

Alonso won two World Drivers' Championships and has 32 grand prix victories. He has 97 podium finishes. Buemi and Nakajima combined for zero World Drivers' Championship, zero grand prix victories and zero podium finishes. While Alonso's Formula One success should not be diminished, it has always been easy to dismiss those who either never raced in Formula One or had minimal success in Formula One. It is easy to say Buemi and Nakajima weren't good enough but there is a flaw when both have been successful everywhere else they have gone.

Every series believes it has the best drivers in the world. Formula One and NASCAR are tied for who says it the most. Formula One believes it and is more confident about it. NASCAR says it and is brash about and does it more to inflate its own worth. Both series believe you can succeed there then you can succeed anywhere and when a driver goes out and wins elsewhere it is another gold star on the board.

However, you can't cherry-pick and only take the good and ignore the unsuccessful or the less successful. While Alonso's success is taken for granted as a Formula One driver showing why that series consider itself the best in the world, Formula One has tot take responsibility for all the drivers. There are plenty of Formula One drivers who weren't winning races and were laughed at and have had success elsewhere. There are also Formula One drivers who were good drivers, won races and didn't match that level of success.

If Formula One will claim it has the best drivers in the world when Alonso succeeds then it can't distance itself when the likes of Max Chilton are mid-pack in IndyCar or when Rubens Barrichello was good but not great in IndyCar or when Scott Speed was mediocre in everything. And Formula One can't belittle other series when the likes of Buemi and Nakajima are winning races but weren't successful in Formula One.

The same goes with NASCAR. As quick it is dismiss drivers from open-wheel backgrounds when the likes of Dario Franchitti, Danica Patrick, Patrick Carpentier and well... Scott Speed were not competitive it can't make exceptions when IndyCar champion Tony Stewart becomes NASCAR champion Tony Stewart nor try to diminish Juan Pablo Montoya when he finished eighth in the Cup championship or try to say A.J. Allmendinger and Michael McDowell aren't that good when both keep getting Cup rides. If they weren't good teams wouldn't continue to hire them.

Great drivers are great drivers regardless of what they are driving. Some drivers succeed in multiple forms of motorsports and others don't but success in one does not guarantee success in all. Alonso is a great driver, not a great driver because he is in Formula One. Stewart was a great driver, not a great driver because he was in NASCAR. Scott Dixon is a great driver, not a great driver because he is in IndyCar. The best find a way and for some it takes time to adjust to a new car and the differences from one car to the next.

Kyle Larson won twice in a sprint car before Sonoma. He was winning in sprint cars before he was a NASCAR star. You can't just pluck any Cup driver and have him win twice in a week in a sprint car. You could take Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, all past Cup champions, put them in a sprint car and none of them would come close to matching what Larson did.

There is not a hierarchy of series with one on top of the other. It is more of a quilt and talent is weaved through all. Some make it to Formula One while others don't but are successful in IndyCar and sports cars. There are those who are on a completely different path whether that is driving a stock car or a rally car. Some get to float around and try different things and some find success in all, others find success in more than one but struggle in others and then there are those are have only one fit.

Alonso's success doesn't mean Formula One gets to reassert itself as having the greatest drivers in the world. It reassert Formula One has a great driver in Alonso alongside Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo to name a few. The same way IndyCar has a great driver in Sébastien Bourdais alongside Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Will Power to name a few. The same way NASCAR has a great driver in Kyle Larson alongside Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick to name a few.

No one series has all the great drivers; they are spread around the world in many different forms of motorsport. Some were in France this weekend, others were in Wisconsin and Sonoma, a few were climbing Pikes Peak, some are unknown competing at a racetrack you never heard of. One might be right behind you. Keep your eyes open.

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

Colton Herta and Victor Franzoni split the Indy Lights races from Road America. It was Franzoni's first career Indy Lights victory. David Malukas swept the weekend in Pro Mazda, his first two victories in the series. Kyle Kirkwood swept the U.S. F2000 races.

Lewis Hamilton won the French Grand Prix.

George Russell and Nyck de Vries split the Formula Two races from Circuit Paul Ricard. Anthonie Hubert and Callum Ilott split the GP3 Series races.

Romain Dumas won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for the third consecutive year and his fourth overall.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Sonoma. Justin Haley picked up his first career Truck series victory at Gateway.

Álvaro Parente and Michael Christensen split the Pirelli World Challenge GT races from Road America. Ian James swept the GTS races.

Jonathan Rea swept the World Superbike races at Laguna Seca.

Edoardo Mortara and Marco Wittmann split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from the Norisring.

The #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas swept the Blancpain Sprint Series weekend from Misano.

Yvan Muller, Mat'o Hamola and Thed Björk split the World Touring Car Cup races from Vila Real, Portugal.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One has its second of three consecutive races and it heads east to Austria.
IMSA returns with its third round of the North American Endurance Championship, the 6 Hours of the Glen.
MotoGP is in the Netherlands in July for the first time in a long time.
NASCAR's first race of July will be at Chicago.
Super GT heads to Thailand.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

First Impressions: Road America 2018

1. Another race, another pole position for Josef Newgarden and another beat down. He whooped the field in a rain-delayed, dry to wet race at Barber Motorsports Park and he led 53 of 55 laps today from pole position, as he took his third victory of the season, leading all drivers in the all-important category. It wasn't an easy race, Ryan Hunter-Reay was on his back all race and one bobble, one hiccup, one lockup and the 2012 champion would have put the 2017 champion in his mirrors. But as we have come to expect from Newgarden the Tennessean does not blink. Nobody scares him. He ran his race and he had it in the bag from the start.

2. Speaking of Ryan Hunter-Reay, it was a great showing but it was a little frustrating to see him run the same strategy as Newgarden. Three stops and on all three stops Hunter-Reay stopped on the same lap as Newgarden. I thought it would have been beneficial to stop a lap early and try and leapfrog him with a solid out lap and put pressure on Newgarden and his crew. Team Penske pit crews do not miss a beat and that was Hunter-Reay only hope. He was within a second of Newgarden for majority of this race but did not have that extra little bit to beat him today. It was still a good showing and he now has a five consecutive top five finishes and eight top five finishes from ten races. It has been a stout year but Hunter-Reay needs to be a little bit better because...

3. Scott Dixon is on fire. This is his fifth podium finish in the last six races and his other finish was fourth. Dixon leads Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi by 45 points with seven races remaining. Hunter-Reay took a chunk out of Dixon's lead and 45 points is not a lot of points with seven races to go but if Dixon keeps finishing on the podium then Hunter-Reay and the rest of the field is in trouble. He now has 101 podium finishes in IndyCar and is in sole possession of third all-time. This is his 18th year and this feels like one of his best yet.

4. Hey! Takuma Sato finished fourth in what was a quiet performance. He got up to fourth from seventh before the end of the first stint and it was a hard battle for fourth in this one with Sato taking on a handful of different drivers. This was a really good day and not only for Sato. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing had a solid weekend for both cars. 

5. Robert Wickens has four top five finishes through ten career starts, as the Canadian finished fifth today. He was clean again and wasn't befallen by a mechanical issue or another aggressive driver. He hasn't clinched rookie of the year yet but we can start stenciling his name onto the trophy or plaque or whatever the rookie of the year gets. 

6. Graham Rahal went from ninth to sixth in another impressive Road America race. He has nine top ten finishes this year but he is falling back in the championship. That little extra is missing. He needs to be making the Fast Six on road and street courses and that will put him into the fight for victories and in turn the fight for the championship. Time is running out and he needs to win at least two but probably three of the final seven with at least three other top five finishes to have any hope of the title.

7. Simon Pagenaud missed out on the second round of qualifying by 0.0003 seconds and he had to start 14th. He worked his way to seventh. That is how close this season has been. If Pagenaud made the second round he might make the Fast Six and if he didn't he might start seventh or eighth and this is an entirely different race for him. Like Rahal, Pagenaud has been excellent but the championship needs him to beyond superb. 

8. Spencer Pigot was in the top ten for a great majority of this race and he was aggressive. He earned this eighth place finish in what was a big confidence boost for Pigot and Ed Carpenter Racing. He is still going to a lot of unfamiliar venues. He has not raced in an IndyCar on any of the remaining three ovals and Portland is a new track for him as well. I think it could be a difficult end to the year but this could be something to build on.

9. Ed Jones finished ninth in what was a quiet day for him. He has put together some good results. 

10. James Hinchcliffe got another top ten finish. This year will be remembered for one thing but don't let that whitewash what has been a very respectable year otherwise for Hinchcliffe.

11. Quick through the rest of the field: Marco Andretti deserved 11th. He could have been tenth, he could have been 12th but 11th is good. Jordan King didn't hit anything this weekend and finished 12th. Sébastien Bourdais had a gear selection issue and had to make a long pit stop, costing him a shot at a top five finish. Tony Kanaan's four-stop strategy did not work because he didn't have the pace on the second stint. Matheus Leist completed all 55 laps but could only manage 15th.

12. Alexander Rossi would have been on the podium had he not suffered a problem with his left front camber and forced him to stop early and in turn forced him to stretch his fuel and run a 17-lap final stint. This is another day he cough up points but this time it wasn't his fault. It was a bit of bad fortune. I think he could do what Newgarden did today and bounce back with a victory in one of the next few races. He trails Dixon by 45 points but he coughed up 21 points at Belle Isle in the second race and if he had finished second at St. Petersburg instead of third that would have been another five points to Rossi. And then there was today. Instead of scoring 35 points he leaves with 14 points. Rossi has been the best driver this season and yet he is third but quite some distance heading into July.

13. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball finished 17th and 18th respectively as Carlin has another rough day. The team is growing. It will find its legs.

14. Gabby Chaves' four-stop strategy was nullified when he had to serve a drive-through penalty for hitting his own equipment and I find that odd because I could swear there have been incidents earlier this season where teams hit their own pit equipment and it was only a monetary fine. It begs the question of does severity play into it? Does slightly tapping a tire on entrance to the pit box warrant a fine but running over the air hose call for a drive-through? I have to look back and see other cases because maybe I am wrong. 

15. Alfonso Celis, Jr. was respectable today. He stayed out of the way and finished one lap down. He wasn't miles off the pace. Zachary Claman De Melo had something go wrong. Zach Veach had the same problem as Rossi and it cost him a lap and then he lost more time for a blend line violation but his pit exit look no different than the pit exit of the leaders so who knows. 

16. And we have reached Will Power, who had his race end before it started. A cracked header and exhaust issues left him in a vulnerable position at the start and he was dead last before the field reached turn five for the first time. Power has escaped the brain fades that cost him titles at the start of this decade but he has now run into a stretch of seasons hampered by retirement of all shapes and sizes. It seems to get him early with the final few blows coming after a remarkable run of results. There is a lot of time left for Power. He could win the next four races but that is unlikely and this might be another year he finishes fourth or fifth in the championship.

17. We get a week off and then comes Iowa. Seven races remain and 65 points cover the top four in the championship. We have no clue what will happen next.

Morning Warm-Up: Road America 2018

Josef Newgarden looks to reignite championship fight at Road America
Josef Newgarden took his third pole position of the season and his second consecutive pole position, as the American was the fastest in the Fast Six session for the Kohler Grand Prix from Road America.  Newgarden took pole position with a lap at 103.2026 seconds, 0.0482 seconds faster than teammate Will Power. This is the second consecutive race Team Penske has swept the front row. This is Power's 20th consecutive race starting in the top ten. This is the fourth consecutive Road America race Power has started on the front row. The 46 laps he led from pole position on his way to victory in 2016 are the only laps he has led at the track. Newgarden has finished in the top ten in both his Road America starts. He led 13 laps in last year's race after starting fifth but he wounded up finishing second. Newgarden has finished on the podium in consecutive years at two tracks. He had three consecutive podium finishes at Iowa from 2014-16 and he has finished on the podium in four consecutive Barber races with three victories in the last four years. Team Penske has only won four times at Road America and four different drivers are responsible for the four victories. Danny Sullivan, Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy and Power have all won at Road America for Team Penske.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will start third, his fourth consecutive top ten start. This is only the second time Hunter-Reay has started in the top five at Road America. He started second in the 2004 race and he finished fourth. Alexander Rossi makes it an all-Andretti row two. Rossi has made it out of the first round of qualifying in every road/street course race this season. This is Rossi's best career starting position at Road America. His prior best starting position was 15th. Rossi had the fastest lap in the qualifying session when he ran a 102.7998 in round two of qualifying. One year after running Friday practice sessions at Road America while on standby for Mikhail Aleshin's entrance to the United States, Robert Wickens will roll off from fifth position for today's race. This is Wickens' fourth consecutive top five starting position and he has the second best average starting position in IndyCar at 6.1 behind only Power. Sébastien Bourdais made the Fast Six for the third time this season and he will start sixth. In six Road America starts, Bourdais' average starting position at the track is fourth.

Takuma Sato missed out on the final round of qualifying but will start seventh, his third top ten starting position in the last four races. This is Sato's best starting position at Road America after his prior best was 15th in 2016. Scott Dixon will start eighth. Dixon could become the second driver to win in successive years at Road America. Jacques Villeneuve won at Road America in 1994 and 1995. Dixon has never won a race from eighth on the grid. Only once has Dixon finished on the podium when starting eighth. He started eighth and finished third at Milwaukee in 2001. It was Dixon's second career podium finish in his fifth career start. Graham Rahal and Spencer Pigot start on an all-American row ten. This is Rahal's third top ten starting position in the last four races but he has started outside the top fifteen in four races this season. This was the second time Pigot has made it through the first round of qualifying in his career. He started ninth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Pigot picked up his first career top ten finish in IndyCar at Road America in 2016 when he finished sixth.

Zach Veach will start 11th for the second time this season. He started 11th at Barber and finished 13th in that race. Since finishing fourth at Long Beach, Veach has been the worst Andretti Autosport finisher in six consecutive races. Ed Jones advanced to round two of qualifying for the second time this year and for the second time in 2018 Jones will start 12th. Jordan King makes his IndyCar debut from 13th position. This is King's first time not making the second round of qualifying while his Ed Carpenter Racing teammate did advance. Simon Pagenaud will start 14th. This is Pagenaud's first time not advancing from the first round of qualifying this season. Pagenaud has only made the Fast Six session once this season. He missed making the second round of qualifying by 0.0003 seconds. Marco Andretti will start 15th and James Hinchcliffe starts next to his former Andretti Autosport teammate in 16th. This year's race occurs 28 years to the day Michael Andretti won at Portland with Mario Andretti finishing second. This is the second consecutive race Hinchcliffe has set his worst starting position of the season.

Zachary Claman De Melo gets his best starting position since Barber in 17th. Claman De Melo won last year in Indy Lights at Road America. It is his only Indy Lights victory. Tony Kanaan is on the outside of row nine, matching his worst career starting position at this track. However, Kanaan finished fourth from 18th on the grid in 2002. Kanaan has never won a race when starting outside the top fifteen. The worst starting position he won from was 15th at Iowa on June 20, 2010. Charlie Kimball and Matheus Leist will start on row ten. This is the seventh race Kimball has started on row ten or worse. This is the fifth time Leist has started on row ten or worse. Kimball finished sixth in his only two starts at Road America. Leist also won in Indy Lights last year at Road America. Brazilians have won seven times at Road America. Only Americans have more Road America victories with eight. The United States, Brazil and Canada have each had four different drivers with at Road America.

Alfonso Celis, Jr. will make his IndyCar debut from 21st on the grid. The last time a Mexican driver won a IndyCar race was October 3, 2004 at Fontana when Adrian Fernández took the victory. Héctor Rebaque is the only Mexican driver to win at Road America in IndyCar. Rebaque won the inaugural IndyCar held at Road America in 1982. Max Chilton starts 22nd for his second consecutive race. This is the fourth time Chilton has started outside the top twenty in his career and this is his third time starting outside the top twenty this season. Gabby Chaves will start 23rd, his worst starting position of the season. This is Chaves' second time running at Road America in IndyCar. In 2016, he started and finished 19th driving for Dale Coyne Racing.

NBCSN's coverage of the Kohler Grand Prix from Road America begins at 12:30 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 55 laps.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Track Walk: Road America 2018

IndyCar is back on the rolling hills of Road America
The tenth round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season and first round of summer takes place at Road America. IndyCar is back after its first off weekend since early May and the top ten in the championship feature seven Honda drivers and three Chevrolet drivers with the top three drivers in the championship representing three different teams. Six of ten full-time teams are represented in the top ten of the championship. Five different nationalities are represented in the top ten of the championship with five American drivers in the top ten; four in the top six and three American drivers have won a race this season. France has two drivers in the top ten. Only one rookie is in the top ten.

Time: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday June 24th with green flag scheduled for 1:05 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: 12:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Second Practice: 4:15 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Third Practice: 12:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Qualifying: 4:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have tape-delayed coverage at 6:30 p.m. ET)
Race: 1:05 p.m. ET (55 laps)

Who Can Have a Summer Spurt? 
A championship run either sprouts out of the heat of summer or burns out. Will Power is one driver who has put together championship assaults. 

Power's average finish in the first five races of the summer the last two seasons is fourth with the Australian picking up four victories, seven podium finishes and nine top ten finishes in those ten races. The only blemish is Power's retirement without completing a lap last year at Toronto. In 2016, Power went from seventh in the championship prior to summer to second after Pocono and heading into the final three races. However, last year did not see such a leap with Power entering summer in fifth and he was fifth entering the final three races of last season. Power is third in the championship and since becoming a full-time Team Penske driver in 2010 he has been in the top three of the championship at the start of summer six times. 

Scott Dixon is known for slow starts to seasons and strong finishes. Twenty-three of Dixon's 43 IndyCar victories have come during summer. This season is the first Dixon has won multiple times before the start of summer since 2015 and it is only the fifth time Dixon has won multiple times before summer with Dixon also achieving it in 2003, 2008 and 2009. Ironically, Dixon led the championship at the start of summer last year despite not winning until the first race of summer at Road America. He finished in the top ten of every race last summer but he did not pick up a top five finish in four consecutive races and Road America was his only victory last season. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay blossomed in spring. The American driver enters summer off the back of four consecutive top five finishes and seven top five finish through the first nine races. Hunter-Reay has already matched his career-high for top five finishes in a season. He has seven top five finishes in his championship season in 2012 and he did it again in 2013. Summer has been fickle to Hunter-Reay. While seven of his 12 victories in the DW12-era have come during summer he has not had more than three top five finishes during one summer since 2012. Bad finishes seem to bite him, especially in the final eight races. Since 2012, Hunter-Reay has finished outside the top ten in 21 of 48 races that made up the final eight races of a season. His average finish in the final eight races of a season since 2012 is a respectable 10.625.

Josef Newgarden will be looking to repeat his achievements of summer 2017. Last year, Newgarden entered summer with one victory, three podium finishes and seventh in the championship, 49 points out of the championship lead. He would go on to win three of the final eight races with three runner-up finishes and a sixth on his way to taking the championship. This year, Newgarden enters summer with double the victories but those two victories are his only top five finishes this season. While the Tennessean is two places better in the championship than he was at this point last season, Newgarden is 19 points further off the championship lead.

Third Times The Charm?
This is the third consecutive season IndyCar has been at Road America after the famed road course was not on the schedule for eight consecutive years. While a few drivers returned to the track after years and in some cases over a decade between starts, a few were contesting the circuit for the first time in the top level of North American open-wheel racing. A few drivers picked up where they left off the last time they competed at Road America, others took no time at all getting a hung of the four-mile ribbon of asphalt but some have not had success and will be hoping this year will be the year for a respectable finish.

Alexander Rossi has been quick both years he has been at Road America but something has always seemed to get in his way. An untimely red flag during qualifying in 2016 kept him from advancing from round one and Rossi had to start 16th. In the race, he got into the top ten early but spent most of the race on the outside looking in and an extra pit stop for a front wing change meant all he could salvage was 15th. He started 15th last year and had a four-stop strategy working with a possible top five finish but a spin by Takuma Sato cancelled out his run to the front but a top ten finish seem certain. However, front wing damage after contact with Tony Kanaan and he slid down the order to a 13th place finish.

James Hinchcliffe brought out a red flag in qualifying for the 2016 Road America race and he started 22nd out of 22 cars. Despite all his efforts all he could manage was a 14th place finish. Last year, Hinchcliffe started ninth and spent a fair amount of the race in the top ten but contact with Will Power entering turn three broke his left front suspension. He made a pit stop for repairs and returned to the circuit but was two laps down and finished 20th.

For the third consecutive year Takuma Sato heads to Road America coming off a top ten finish in the race prior. His first two trips to dairy country have not been kind to the 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner. He started 15th in 2016 but was running in the top ten until a pit lane speeding penalty dropped him to a 17th place finish. Last year, Sato entered the weekend with a stiff neck and it hampered his entire weekend. He started 20th and his spin in the race put him a lap down with his final result being 19th.

Who is Desperate?
At this point of the season drivers are going to start to get desperate to get results but desperation comes in many different forms.

While being closer to the top than the bottom the most desperate driver of all at the start of the second half of the season could be Simon Pagenaud. The Frenchman has had far from a terrible start to 2018 but this year has been uncharacteristic for him. Prior to his second place finish at Texas his best finish was sixth in the Indianapolis 500. Eight races without a top five finish is the longest drought of his IndyCar career. The good news for Pagenaud is he sits eighth in the championship on 229 points but 128 points out of the championship lead. His championship hopes need victories to stay alive and of the remaining eight tracks on the schedule, Pagenaud has only won at two of them, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma and the only other track he has a podium finish at is Gateway.

Pagenaud's fellow countryman Sébastien Bourdais is in the same boat. Bourdais has fallen to ninth in the championship; 11 points behind Pagenaud and Bourdais started the season with three top five fishes in the first five races and was third in the championship entering Indianapolis 500 practice. Entering summer he has one top ten finish in his last four starts and like Pagenaud any hopes of a championship ride on Bourdais picking up multiple victories. The back half of the season poises to be more favorable for Bourdais than Pagenaud. Bourdais has won at three of the final eight tracks but much of his success came in Champ Car.

Spencer Pigot and the entire Ed Carpenter Racing organization have to be desperate. It has not had a top ten finish on a permanent road course since Pigot finished ninth in last year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The team has not had a top five finish on a permanent road course since Josef Newgarden finished second at Watkins Glen in 2016. Pigot's first season as a full-time driver has been disappointing to say the least with the California-born, Florida-raised driver having only two lead lap finishes from he first nine races of the season. Jordan King has shown pace but he has found the barriers on a more consistent basis and he is still looking for his first top ten finish in IndyCar.

Gabby Chaves has been his consistent and clean self with the Colombian being one of seven drivers running at the finish of every race the season. The only problem for Chaves is he is the lowest of the seven in the championship and has the worst average starting position and worst average finishing position of that group. Chaves has never finish in the top ten on a permanent road course with his best finish being 12th at Mid-Ohio in 2015. Only once has Chaves made it out of round one of road/street course qualifying and that was at St. Petersburg in March.

Matheus Leist had been on a tear prior to his fire at Texas ended his night after five laps. The Brazilian had six consecutive lead lap finishes entering that race but despite that hot streak he has still yet to finish in the top ten in his IndyCar career and despite starting third at the season opener at St. Petersburg, Leist has started 14th or worse in the other five road and street course races this season. Last year, Leist ran at Road America in Indy Lights and he won the first race from pole position and finished fourth in the second race of the weekend.

Max Chilton has yet to score a top ten finish this season and he is the worst of the full-time drivers in the championship with the Brit 21st in the championship, seven points behind Ed Carpenter, who has only started three races this season. While Chilton has qualified ahead of his teammate Charlie Kimball in six of nine races and in five of six road/street course races, Kimball has scored the better finish in seven of nine races. The good news for Chilton he has been getting the car to the end of races, completing the tenth most laps through nine races and his lone retirement was an electrical issue at Barber. Chilton has started seventh in both his Road America starts and while running out of fuel cost him a good result in 2016, last year Chilton finished ninth.

Alfonso Celis, Jr. makes his debut this weekend in the #32 Chevrolet for Juncos Racing and while most debutant are just looking to have a respectable showing, Celis, Jr. might want to be a little more eager. The Mexican driver is the third to drive for Juncos Racing this season. He competed last year in Formula V8 3.5 World Series and he finished third in the championship with one victory. René Binder, who has made four starts with Juncos and will return for Toronto and Mid-Ohio, finished three points behind Celis, Jr. in the Formula V8 3.5 World Series last year despite the Austrian winning four races. Binder has been off the pace and did not break 105% of the fastest time in Friday practice at Belle Isle nor the fastest time in qualifying for the Saturday race. Celis, Jr. made two Indy Lights starts at Barber in April and he finished seventh and eighth in those races.

Road to Indy
After a month off, all three Mazda Road to Indy series are back n action at Road Amierca.

With ten races remaining in the Indy Lights season, Colton Herta holds the championship lead with 189 points, six points ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate Pato O'Ward. Herta won three consecutive races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with two on the road course and then the Freedom 100 on Carb Day. Herta has five consecutive podium finishes and six podium finishes from eighth races. While O'Ward also has three victories, he is only other podium finish was second in the Freedom 100.

Santiago Urrutia sits third in the championship, 21 points behind Herta. he won the second race of the season at St. Petersburg and he has finished in the top five of every race this season. Urrutia won at Road America in 2016 and he finished second last year. Victor Franzoni is a distant fourth in the championship, 50 points behind Herta. He won race one last year at Road America in Pro Mazda and he finished second in the second race. Franzoni was the fastest driver at the Road America test over a week ago. Ryan Norman rounds out the top five on 128 points. Norman has finished fifth three consecutive races. Dalton Kellett finished third in the Freedom 100 for a third consecutive year and he has 122 points, one ahead of Wisconsinite Aaron Telitz

The first Indy Lights race will be at noon ET on Saturday June 23rd. The second race will be at 9:50 a..m. ET on June 24th.

Canadian Parker Thompson is pulling away with the Pro Mazda championship with nine races remaining. Thompson has won three of seven races this season and his worst finish is fifth. He made four starts at Road America in U.S. F2000 with a third place finish and three fifth-place finishes. Carlos Cunha sits 40 points behind Thompson. Cunha has yet to win a race in 19 Pro Mazda starts but he has ten podium finishes in his career including four this season and two consecutive runner-up finishes. Cunha's Juncos Racing teammate Rinus VeeKay swept the St. Petersburg weekend but he trails the Brazilian by a point in the championship with only one podium finish in the last five races.

After winning consecutive races at Barber and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Harrison Scott has finished 12th in the last two races and he is fourth in the championship on 130 points. Reigning U.S. F2000 champion Oliver Askew is five points behind Scott and the Floridian is looking for his first Pro Mazda victory. He did not win either of the U.S. F2000 races at Road America last year as VeeKay swept the weekend. David Malukas is another five points behind Askew with Sting Ray Robb on 114 points in seventh. Robert Megennis rounds out the top eight on 102 points. Malukas topped the Pro Mazda test last week.

Pro Mazda will race at 2:20 p.m. ET on Friday June 22nd and 2:05 p.m. ET on Saturday June 23rd.

Kyle Kirkwood of Cape Motorsport has a healthy championship lead in U.S. F2000 with three victories, a runner-up finish and a fifth from the first five races of the season. He has 154 points and a 59-point lead over Alexander Baron, who has won the other two races this season. Cape Motorsport has won 66 of 117 U.S. F2000 race held since the revival of the series in 2010 and seven consecutive U.S. F2000 champions have driven for Cape Motorsport. Baron has also retired from twice this season. José Sierra is five points behind Baron with two podium finishes and four top ten finishes.

Five points cover fourth through seventh. Igor Fraga sits on 76 points but has only one podium finish, a second in the second race from St. Petersburg. Rasmus Lindh finished third in the last two races and he is tied with Pabst Racing teammate Lucas Kohl on 74 points with Newman Wachs Racing's Darren Keane on 71 points. Calvin Ming has not stood on the podium this season but has 67 points with Kaylen Frederick on 62 points after a runner-up finish at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Frederick was the fastest driver at the Road America test held last week.

U.S. F2000 will race at 1:10 p.m. ET on Saturday June 23rd and 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday June 24th.

Pirelli World Challenge
For the final time this season Pirelli World Challenge and the Verizon IndyCar Series share a weekend and Pirelli World Challenge will revert to a familiar format with the GT and GTS divisions competing simultaneously in two races this weekend. Forty cars are entered for this weekend's two races with 14 GT cars, 25 GTS cars and one GT Cup car.

Scott Hargrove swept the St. Petersburg weekend and despite having not won since March he leads the overall PWC GT championship and the sprint championship with 188 points and 104 points in the two respective championships. The driver of the #96 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche has not finished on a sprint race podium since St. Petersburg. Toni Vilander swept the Austin Sprint-X weekend in the #61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari with Miguel Molina and the Finn trails Hargrove by six points and eight points in the overall and sprint championships respectively. Daniel Morad won at Mosport last month but the driver of the #2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG trails his fellow Canadian Hargrove by 33 points in the overall championship but he is only 12 points back in the sprint championship.

Michael Christensen is fresh off winning the GTE-Pro class at Le Mans and he will be in the #24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche. Rodrigo Baptista rounds out the top five in the #3 Bentley and he won at  Virginia International Raceway in Sprint-X and finished second to teammate Álvaro Parente in the most recent race at Mosport. Bentley won last year at Road America with Adderly Fong. Daniel Mancinelli is back in the #31 TR3 Racing Ferrari for his third round this season. He won at Long Beach.

In GT-A, Martin Fuentes leads the championship by 14 points over Yuki Harata. Parker Chase has four consecutive podium finishes and he won the first race at Mosport.

James Sofronas leads the overall GTS championship by 11 points over Lawson Aschenbach but Aschenbach leads the GTS sprint championship by 26 points over Sofronas as Aschenbach has won all four sprint races this season while Sofronas has won two Sprint-X races. Jade Buford is third in the overall GTS championship with a victory at Austin in Sprint-X and he was on the podium for both Mosport races. Shane Lewis is third in the GTS sprint championship and fourth overall despite his only podium finish being third in the first Mosport race.

Last year, Ian James swept the Road America weekend for Panoz. The British driver has not won yet this season and his best finish was fourth at St. Petersburg.

In GTSA, Drew Staveley has won three of four races and holds an 11-point lead over Tony Gaples. James Courtney and Mike Hedlund are 14 points behind Staveley. Preston Calvert rounds out the top five, 27 points behind Staveley. Mark Klenin is the only other race winner in GTSA this season.

The first PWC race will take place at 5:35 p.m. ET on Saturday June 23rd with the second race scheduled for 3:45 p.m. ET on Sunday June 24th.

Fast Facts
This will be the 11th IndyCar race to take place on June 24th and first since 2007 when Paul Tracy won at Cleveland, his 31st and final career victory and Dario Franchitti won at Iowa, the first race held at the 7/8-mile oval.

Five different teams have won the first race of summer the last six years. Those teams are Andretti Autosport, Dale Coyne Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.

Seven different drivers have won the first race of summer the last seven years. Those drivers are Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Carlos Huertas, Graham Rahal, Will Power and Scott Dixon.

The last driver to win the first race of summer in consecutive seasons was Greg Ray in 1999 and 2000.

Scott Dixon is attempting to win at the same track in successive seasons for the first time since 2011 and 2012.

Scott Dixon has won in successive seasons at five different tracks. Those tracks are Watkins Glen (2005-07), Nashville (2005-07), Kansas (2009-10), Mid-Ohio (2011-12) and Sonoma (2014-15).

Scott Dixon is attempting to have three victories within the first ten races of a season for the fourth time in his career. He did it in 2003, 2008 and 2009.

Scott Dixon has five consecutive top five finishes. A top five in this race will give him his longest streak since 2011-12 when he ended the 2011 season with six top five finishes and started 2012 with two top five finishes.

Of the eight races that finished under green flag conditions this season, the closest finish was 1.2413 seconds at Long Beach between Alexander Rossi and Will Power. The average margin of victory this season is 4.6344 seconds with a median of 3.07745 seconds.

The closest making of victory in a Road America race is 0.3300 seconds with Emerson Fittipaldi winning over Mario Andretti in 1986.

Five of the last six Road America races have been decided by less than a second.

Seven different drivers have won the last seven Road America races (Cristiano da Matta, Bruno Junqueira, Alex Tagliani, A.J. Allmendinger, Sébastien Bourdais, Will Power, Scott Dixon).

Six different nationalities have won the last six Road America races (Brazilian, Canadian, American, French, Australian, New Zealander).

Five different teams have won the last five Road America races (Rocketsports, Forsythe Racing, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing).

Zachary Claman De Melo won last year at Road America in Indy Lights. The only driver to win in Indy Lights and IndyCar at Road America is Paul Tracy. Zach Veach won in Indy Lights at Road America in 2015.

The last two Road America races have had 17 cars finish on the lead lap, tied for the most in event history.

Last year, Josef Newgarden set the record for fastest race lap at Road America with a time of 1:43.4651.

The average starting position for a Road America winner is 3.667 with a median of three.

Only once has a Road America winner started outside the top ten. Alex Tagliani won in 2004 from 13th on the grid.

The average number of lead changes in a Road America race is 4.153 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions in a Road America race is 2.192 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 7.038 with a median of 5.5.

The last two Road America races have had three caution laps.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is one podium finish away from having the third most podium finishes in IndyCar history.

Sébastien Bourdais is one top five finish away from 75 career top five finishes.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead eight laps to surpass Tomas Scheckter for 30th all-time in laps led.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 23 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Charlie Kimball needs to lead 38 laps to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud wins the race, Team Penske has two cars finish in the top three and Scott Dixon retains the championship lead. One driver will start outside the top ten and finish at least eight positions better than where he started. There will not be an accident at the kink. At least three Americans start 15th or worse. At least three Americans finish seventh or better. Robert Wickens qualifies and finishes ahead of his teammate and at least six positions ahead of the next best rookie. Sleeper: Max Chilton.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Halfway Report

Summer is not even here yet but we are halfway home when it comes to the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. There are fewer races ahead of us then are behind us and in 40 days there will only be four IndyCar remaining in the 2018 season.

There have been six different winners representing four different teams through the first nine races of the season. Seven different drivers have won a pole position. Teams continue to learn the new aero kit and there are still plenty of unknowns that lay ahead.

As with the first quarter report, this halfway report subjectively ranks the full-time teams through the first nine races of the season.

1. Team Penske
No change here as Team Penske won two of five races during the second quarter of the IndyCar season, both coming at the hands of Will Power. While none of the team's three drivers lead the championship, the team has been the one consistent threat every week. Even the team's off weekend is a great weekend when you consider the team was not close at all to competing for victory at Belle Isle and Power still ended up second in the second race of the weekend and exited as the championship leader.

While Penske is still on top, the gap is closing. Josef Newgarden is coming off his worst five-race stretch with Team Penske. His best finish was eighth in the second quarter of the season. He went from championship leader, 13 points clear of the field to fifth, 68 points back. Simon Pagenaud has had the worst nine-race stretch of his career but the good news is his ninth race was his best race as he finished second at Texas, not only his first podium finish but his first top five finish of the season.

Team Penske is the one team you would not be surprised if it won the next five races with each driver getting at least one victory. The team could be sleeping in the grass but it needs to wake up early in summer otherwise it will not be on top heading down the stretch.

2. Andretti Autosport
No change again as Andretti Autosport has two drivers in the top five of the championship, same as Team Penske. Ryan Hunter-Reay picked up the team's only victory in the second quarter of the season but he has been on a tear with four consecutive top five finishes and he is tied for most top five finishes this season with seven and the driver he happens to be tied with is his teammate Alexander Rossi.

Rossi leads all drivers this season with five podium finishes, including two in the second quarter of the season. However, while Rossi has picked up some silverware and he had an impressive drive in the Indianapolis 500 from 32nd to fourth, Rossi has coughed up his fair share of points this year and most notably in the second quarter of the season was the second Belle Isle race. A lock up while leading not only cost him a victory but the championship lead as instead of coasting to second behind Hunter-Reay, he had to turnaround in the runoff area, return to the track in fourth but with a deflated right front tire requiring a pit stop and leaving him with a 12th place finish but 21 points fewer than had he finished second. Rossi is second in the championship, 23 points outside the championship lead.

Marco Andretti scored a pole position and had a fourth and ninth at Belle Isle. He had a good day going at Texas before a clutch issue on a pit stop ended his good run. Zach Veach had a strong night at Texas working his way from 16th to fourth in the opening stint but a brush with the wall ended his night. Veach's best finish in the second quarter was 12th in the first Belle Isle.

3. Chip Ganassi Racing
Scott Dixon won twice and that has lifted him to the championship lead but after the poor start (but not that poor of a start), Chip Ganassi Racing finds itself third after nine races. Dixon has been Dixon and the two races he has won have been clinical races where he knew when to use patience and when to use aggression. He finished in the top five in all five races in the second quarter of the season with four podium finishes. Through nine races, Dixon has completed all 1,200 laps.

Dixon has not been doing it alone. Ed Jones had his rough days, both coming at Indianapolis with an extra pit stop costing him a lap in the road course race and an accident in turn two end his Indianapolis 500 after 57 laps. However, Jones finished sixth in the first Belle Isle race and out ran Dixon all day in the second race for a third place finish. Texas started off slow but despite his early lack of pace Jones stayed on the lead lap and overcame a penalty for jumping a restart to finish sixth, his third consecutive top ten finish.

4. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Graham Rahal has been a stud this season but mostly because he has been starting behind the eight ball in most races. He has seven top ten finishes this season with four top ten finishes from five races in the second quarter of the season. The one blemish was a surefire top five finish in the first Belle Isle race wasted after catching the curb in turn 12 and throwing his Dallara-Honda into the barrier. Rahal has been lacking in qualifying form but it hasn't stopped him from putting together impressive drives such as 30th to tenth in the Indianapolis 500 and 20th to sixth at Texas.

Takuma Sato has also been strong as of late. Minus an accident in the Indianapolis 500 when Sato made contact with James Davison exiting turn three, he had three top ten finishes in the second quarter of the season with one on a road course, one on a street course and one on an oval. While only having one top five finish through nine races he is only two top ten finishes off his total from last year and Sato will need a better second half than 2017. Last year, he had one top ten finish from the final eight races.

5. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
The first quarter darling isn't looking so pretty after quarter two. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has still had a good season but it suffered a few big blows over the last few races. The good news is Robert Wickens continues to impress and he had four top ten finishes in the five races. Unfortunately, his one bad result was when he was competing for a top five finish and possibly a victory at Texas and his night ended after contact with lapped traffic. While Wickens has been stellar, he has not had a top five finish in the last four races.

James Hinchcliffe's second quarter has been well documented. Failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and a pair of finishes outside the top ten at Belle Isle but he turned it around at Texas with a fourth place finish, his first top five since Barber and he did it from 15th on the grid. However, the damage has been done and Hinchcliffe is 11th in the championship.

6. Dale Coyne Racing
The shine has worn off this gem and Dale Coyne Racing has become just another brick in the wall. Sébastien Bourdais dropped six positions in the championship over the second quarter of the season as he suffered three consecutive finishes outside the top ten between the Indianapolis 500 and the Belle Isle doubleheader, two of which were finishes outside the top twenty. While he has shown speed and finished eighth at Texas, Bourdais he not been able to replicate his first quarter performances and after leading 90 laps between the first two races, he has led 18 laps in the last six races and has not led a lap in the last three.

The second seat was split between Zachary Claman De Melo and Santino Ferrucci with Ferrucci running the two Belle Isle races. Claman De Melo has put out three strong performances with a lead lap finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and a near top ten performance in that race. He was quick in the Indianapolis 500 but faded to 19th. At Texas he was aggressive and maybe at times could have done lead lap cars a favor when he was not compete for a position but he was running in the top ten before tangling with Will Power. Ferrucci had two good days at Belle Isle with the first race ruined after Charlie Kimball drove into the back of him. The second day was squandered when Ferrucci spun exiting the pit lane on cold tires and it cost him a shot at a top ten.

7. Ed Carpenter Racing
Things have not improved much for Ed Carpenter Racing but they have improved enough. In fact, it could be argued the only thing that got the team up one position from quarter one was Ed Carpenter's display in the Indianapolis 500 where he won pole position, led a race-high 65 laps and finished second. His Texas race was not going well prior to the contact with Wickens and he would have been fortunate to finish in the top half of the field.

Spencer Pigot got his first top ten finish of the season in the first Belle Isle race, 364 days after his prior top ten finish but Pigot has been stuck in the middle all season. He did himself no favors in the Indianapolis 500 where a pit lane speeding penalty killed any shot of a top ten finish after starting sixth. The second Belle Isle race was doomed after a lap one spin, which wasn't really his fault. He wasn't close to his Indianapolis pace at Texas but hung on for an 11th place finish.

Jordan King has given himself a reputation for tearing up equipment. Through every round King has participated in this season he has found the barrier or put the car significantly off course. It cost him in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis after starting fifth and a practice crash at Belle Isle nullified any shot of a promising result.

8. A.J. Foyt Racing
Things have been better for A.J. Foyt Racing but it is still bad for the team and it has not been because of a lack of speed from Tony Kanaan. He was competitive in the Indianapolis 500 before a tire puncture forced a pit stop and a spin canceled out any hopes of a comeback. At Belle Isle, he turned a 22nd starting position in race two into a seventh place finish.

Matheus Leist has been completing laps, which is a good thing for a rookie but he has yet to recapture that spark he showed in qualifying at St. Petersburg. He started 11th at the Indianapolis 500, to the right of his senior teammate, but his next best starting position in the second quarter of the season was 18th. Leist has yet to threaten for a top ten finish this year and he might only be the fourth best rookie this season with Claman De Melo giving him an argument for third best of the newcomers.

Texas was a nightmare for the team as Leist's night ended after five laps due to a fire and Kanaan's night was over after 31 laps after suspension damage. It was Kanaan's first retirement in 19 Texas races and it came from sixth on the grid, Kanaan's best starting position of the season.

9. Carlin
It has been a rough debut season for Carlin but the team is off the bottom after Charlie Kimball picked up two top ten finishes in the last two races. Besides those results, Kimball was solid throughout Indianapolis 500 practice, qualifying and the race and he completed all but one lap in the second quarter of the season.

It has been a trying year for Max Chilton and while he is still behind Ed Carpenter in the championship, Chilton picked up best two finishes of the season in the last two races with an 11th at Belle Isle and a 12th at Texas, he qualified tenth for the first Belle Isle race and he completed all but three laps in the second quarter of the season.

10. Harding Racing
Sadly, the only full-time single-car team in IndyCar finds itself lonely on the bottom. Harding Racing has not been terrible but it has been far from a great year for Gabby Chaves and company. The team's best finish is 14th. Besides starting eighth at St. Petersburg the team's best starting position is 14th. Chaves has not retired from a race yet and he has kept it out of the barriers but the joyous days as a part-timer are over. A top ten finish seems miles away for this team. It will be a long conclusion to this season.

Who Is Already Out?
After the first quarter of the season, I buried the championship hopes for five drivers. Prior to Texas I added four more tombstones to the graveyard. How much could have changed after one race?

There were four deathbeds before Texas and after there are still four deathbeds. I said Andretti, Pagenaud, Hinchcliffe and Jones all needed great nights and three of the four met the call. Andretti didn't but with eight races remaining and Pagenaud, Andretti, Hinchcliffe and Jones currently eighth, tenth, 11th and 12th in the championship I figure I will leave the top half of the table in play and while the proposition of Andretti, Hinchcliffe or Jones lifting the Astor Cup come Sonoma seems like a far stretch I will let Road America take place before pulling the plug on any other drivers.

Where Do We Stand With the Universal Aero Kit?
Well, well, well... not as happy now are we?

The aesthetically pleasing universal aero kit proved there is more to a race car than looks in the second quarter of the season. Despite having 30 lead changes, the seventh-most in Indianapolis 500 history, many were not happy with this year's race. Despite having Scott Dixon start seventh and Alexander Rossi start eighth and both drivers working their way to the front as well as having Robert Wickens make his fair share of passes to get to the lead at Texas, many were not happy with this year's race.

On the flip side, Belle Isle put on two interesting races with the two-stop strategy vs. three-stop strategy on display in both races. Unfortunately, cautions negated the battle in race one but in race two we got to see Ryan Hunter-Reay click off laps nearly two seconds faster than his teammate Alexander Rossi in his winning effort. Prior to that, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis saw Will Power and Robert Wickens battle through tire strategy with the each getting the better of the other on a stint and making on track passes for the lead with Power coming out on top.

While the oval races have not been what we saw over the last few years of the DW12-era the races were far from dull affairs. The Indianapolis 500 saw Rossi and Oriol Servià making notable passes on the outside of corners and both drivers were picking off multiple drivers at a time. After Texas, drivers praise the conditions with lifting into corners and tire management playing a key role into the race.

As documented before, what we have seen are different races but with drama coming in different forms and a driver's ability having more to do with determining the winner.

What To Watch For In Quarter Three?
This is put up or shut up time when it comes to the championship.

We have had six winners, three of which have won multiple times. This is a chance for any of those three to start to pull away. It will be key for Josef Newgarden to put together solid performances, as outside of his two victories his next best finish is seventh. Last year, Newgarden's championship run was off the back of three victories and three runner-up finishes in the final eight races of the season. He might have to be just as good to repeat this year.

Alexander Rossi has been the stud but has not accumulated the number of victories he should have considering his performances. He cannot leave any more points on the table and last year he ended strong with a victory, three podium finishes and five top ten finishes in the final eight races.

Graham Rahal and Robert Wickens need to win races if they want to be championship contenders. Consistently finishing seventh or eighth is not going to be good enough. They needed to turn seventh place finishes in to top fives and top fives into victories.

I do not think we will see a driver pull away. While Scott Dixon is one of the best IndyCar drivers of all-time this series is too good to think he will win three of the next four races and sail away to his fifth championship.

Road America's long straightaways could play into the hands of the Chevrolets while the tight natures of Toronto and Mid-Ohio could be more into Honda's favor. Iowa appears to be the one wild card. Honda took four of the top six in qualifying at Phoenix including pole position but despite Honda drivers leading 137 of 250 laps, Chevrolet took the victory after a late call by Josef Newgarden to take tires on the final pit stop and the fresh set of tires saved the night for Chevrolet. The three Penske drivers led a combined 113 laps with Will Power's 80 laps led being the most on the night.

Nobody would be surprised if Team Penske took three of the next four races but the pressure should be on Team Penske because Honda has power in numbers. While only leading in the victories column 5-4, Honda has put multiple cars on the podium in eight of nine races and the only race Chevrolet has had multiple cars finish in the top five was the Indianapolis 500. Team Penske has not had multiple top five finishers in one race this season and if Honda puts together another sweep of the top five or six the championship could quickly fall out of Team Penske's grasp and be left for one of five Honda drivers from four different teams to claim.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: A Team That Can Stir the Pot

Fernando Alonso is on top of the world. Plenty are frustrated over safety car periods, Balance of Performance, Equivalence of Technology and fuel stint limits. Sébastien Bourdais is mad at Frédéric Makowiecki. Ducati may be having second thoughts on a certain Spaniard. Team Penske is eight victories away from 500 victories as an organization. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

A Team That Can Stir the Pot
There has been a trend in IndyCar for quite sometime that once you make it to the top you stay there. Scott Dixon has spent the better part of 17 years with Chip Ganassi Racing. While no longer full-time in IndyCar, Hélio Castroneves contested his 20th season with Team Penske. Will Power is in his tenth year with the Captain's operation. Marco Andretti has spent all 13 season with Andretti Autosport.

Ok, maybe Andretti isn't at the top but IndyCar is a bit top heavy when it comes to who has the wherewithal to hire top drivers. It is pretty predictable where the top drivers will end up. Josef Newgarden was destined to be at either Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing. There was next to nothing that Ed Carpenter Racing could have done to prevent the move from happening. Even Andretti Autosport, the team with five Indianapolis 500 victories and the only other team to win a championship since reunification is not a power player and Alexander Rossi has been linked to Team Penske since his rookie season.

Every other team is searching for a dime but hoping they find a quarter. The only good thing IndyCar has going for it is it has more talented drivers than Penske and Ganassi seats. We are able to see some of the wealthy spread around but in reality Dale Coyne Racing only has Sébastien Bourdais until either Penske or Ganassi decide they want him. Coyne couldn't keep Ed Jones from leaping at the open Ganassi seat after Brendon Hartley decided Scuderia Toro Rosso would be his employer for 2018. It would be even greater of a sitting duck should Ganassi decide to replace Jones after this season.

It might sound crazy but Formula One has a more competitive driver market. It might have a more competitive on-track product than IndyCar but off-track it has an edge. More teams have more money to throw around. There are the minnows scratching for cash and maybe even taking loans from Liberty Media to stay alive but Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Renault have the ability to hire whoever the team wants. Remember, Carlos Sainz, Jr. choose to go to Renault midseason and Renault was able to make that happen.

Out of the ten full-time IndyCar teams, two are buyers and eight are sellers but there is a big name on the cusp of entering the series that could shuffle the deck.

McLaren has been flirting with IndyCar since last year when it partnered with Andretti Autosport to bring Fernando Alonso to the Indianapolis 500. McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a long relationship with IndyCar and McLaren would not be considering IndyCar if it were not for him having control of the steering wheel or in this case checkbook. While McLaren was absent from this year's Indianapolis 500, the team has been feeling out a 2019 entry on the grid. Brown and other McLaren officials attended the Belle Isle round and notably met with Michael Andretti. The following week saw Andretti schmoozing with Alonso in Montreal during the Canadian Grand Prix weekend. There is smoke. How big is the fire?

A full-time McLaren effort still has many hurdles to overcome. The team is talking about a partnership with an existing team for year one but what does that mean? Does that mean using another team's equipment? Another team's personnel? Another team's shop? None of the above or all three?

McLaren will need to get its own equipment, hires it own people and get its own building at some point. When all that occurs, IndyCar will have a new big spender on the grid and one that can complete with the current stalwarts.

With a victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday, Alonso seems to be a given for a McLaren IndyCar effort and with the public eye-fucking between him and the series on social media you have to think he is going to be finding a permanent residence in the United States soon rather than later. But McLaren's IndyCar involvement likely will not revolve around Alonso and he will need a teammate. McLaren should enter IndyCar will the ability to hire any driver it likes.

McLaren has more to offer any other IndyCar driver on the grid. The potential perks are endless: Formula One seat even if only a test, maybe a top-class Le Mans entry, gorgeous road cars and, most importantly, money. A McLaren IndyCar driver will not be making McLaren Formula One driver-type money but the payday should be competitive to what top IndyCar drivers already earn and McLaren would have the ability to have the top two paid drivers on the grid.

It doesn't making sense for McLaren to bring a development driver or a notable European name to IndyCar. The team would likely want a driver that could aid the whole organization in its IndyCar effort and what would stop McLaren from getting the best driver on the grid? Ganassi has been great but McLaren could provide Scott Dixon with the payday he deserves. If Dixon is a no, what is stopping McLaren from bringing Hélio Castroneves back to IndyCar full-time? We know Castroneves wants to be in IndyCar. Team Penske has put him in sports cars. It is tough to part with the Captain but McLaren might be a good reason to jump ship for Castroneves. Or what about Juan Pablo Montoya? The driver has a previous relationship with McLaren, is one of the greatest drivers of all-time and with Montoya also missing one leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsports and McLaren interested in the new regulations for the top class in sports car racing, it could be his best shot at completing it as Acura and Team Penske might not be interested in spending more than they currently are in IMSA's DPi class.

The name McLaren would add notoriety to IndyCar but it would also add a dissent to mix up what has been a pretty established hierarchy in the series. While McLaren could pick off the top drivers in its entrance to the series the team could also be another landing pad for young talent, either drivers entering the series or drivers already on the grid and taking a step up from a smaller team.

Success isn't guaranteed for McLaren if it enters IndyCar but should the team enter it will certainly leave a mark.

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

Jorge Lorenzo won MotoGP's Catalan Grand Prix, his second consecutive victory. Fabio Quartararo won Moto2 race, his first career victory in his 57th grand prix start. Enea Bastianini won the Moto3 race.

Scott McLaughlin and David Reynolds split the Supercars races from Hidden Valley Raceway.

Justin Allgaier won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Iowa, his second victory of the season. Brett Moffitt won the Truck race, his second victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar starts its second half of the season at Road America.
All three series of the Road to Indy and Pirelli World Challenge will also be at Road America.
NASCAR's Cup series has its first road course race of the season. Trucks will be at Gateway.
Formula One returns to France for the first time since 2008!
World Superbikes makes its one trip to the United States and Laguna Seca.
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters hits the streets at the Norisring.
The Blancpain Sprint Series returns to action at Misano.
The World Touring Car Cup heads to the streets of Vila Real in Portugal.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Toyota Finally Wins Le Mans, Alonso One Crown From Immortality

After five runner-up finishes, some due to being beat on speed and others because of sheer misfortune, Toyota has finally won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and it comes at the hands of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso in the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid.

This trio has now won the first two round of the 2018-18 FIA World Endurance Championship but the unpopular but popular story is Fernando Alonso clinching the second of three legs of the Triple Crown of Motorsports. The man won twice on the streets of Monaco, in consecutive years in 2006-07 and 11 years after his last victory in the principality the man has become the sixth driver to win at Monaco and Le Mans joining Tazio Nuvolari, Maurice Trintignant, Bruce McLaren, Jochen Rindt and the man he looks to join at a special motorsports pantheon, Graham Hill.

The only thing left for Fernando Alonso is the Indianapolis 500. Last year, he impressed many as a rookie and as a man who left the comfort of Mediterranean luxury for the speed of a relatively flat rectangle in the middle of the United States. Few... actually, nobody openly speaks openly about chasing the Triple Crown of Motorsports. It has never been an achievement one seeks to obtain but rather it has been something you could only conceivably stumble into. Nobody plans a multi-discipline quest, not in the 21st century, one that has started following the trend of hyper-specialization.

The goal is Formula One. If you are not rich enough or not fortunate enough to be noticed by a manufacture or a sponsor then it is elsewhere, whether that is sports cars or IndyCar or something entirely different. If you are fortunate to make Formula One you stay there as long as you can and earn as many millions of dollars as you can to the point where either you get bored and lose the luster of motorsports or Formula One no longer wants you and a career decision has to be made but even then it is one move to something to get rooted in and spend another decade or so. Few contest all three legs of the Triple Crown of Motorsports let alone win at least two of the three. With Alonso's victory we now have two drivers sitting on a Triple Crown. Alonso needs to win a 500-mile oval race. Juan Pablo Montoya needs to win a 24-hour endurance event. It will have to wait until at least 2019.

Alonso aside, there is a common thread in the results of the prototype classes. His co-drivers, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, have been Toyota factory drivers since the manufacture returned to Le Mans in 2012 and both came after short stints in Formula One. Ironically, Nakajima's Formula One debut came on one of the first days of a decade's worth of heartbreak for Alonso. The 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix saw the Spaniard enter four points behind McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton in the World Drivers' Championship. He started fourth, behind the Ferraris of Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa and his teammate Hamilton. While his teammate faltered, Alonso had nothing for the Ferraris. Räikkönen won the race, Massa finished second and Alonso rounded out the podium in third; one point behind Räikkönen in the championship, tied with his teammate but third in the final championship standings on tiebreaker.

After that one grand prix, Nakajima spent two more years at Williams and while he score a fair share of points in his first full season, his second year was a scoreless season and quickly with Toyota withdrawing from the series, Williams cut ties and at 24 years old he was heading back to Japan.

Buemi came up from the brilliant yet toxic Red Bull driver program. While producing a world champion and race winners, Red Bull has also run through young drivers, ending careers with drivers close to 20 years of age than 30. Buemi was in that boat. He spent three years in Formula One driving for Scuderia Toro Rosso, scoring points and beating his teammates consistently. But at 23 years old and with no room to move up and a lot of pressure from below, Buemi was squeezed out.

Without Formula One, Buemi and Nakajima have become two of the most successful and underrated drivers in the world. While it took Buemi seven years to get to the top step at Le Mans, this is his third overall podium in the event and his third place finish in 2014 season came in the year he and Anthony Davidson won the World Endurance Drivers' Championship. Along with his WEC exploits, Buemi has become the early benchmark for Formula E success. Currently, Buemi has the most Formula E victories with 12, a percentage of 29.27% of his entries have been victories, he also leads in pole positions with nine and on top of it all he won the 2015-16 championship. Coincidentally,  this victory at Le Mans is Buemi's 12th WEC victory and fifth consecutive dating back to last season.

Nakajima spent a year as a Formula Nippon test driver before he entered the series in 2011 and he won in his second start. He finished second in the championship as a rookie behind André Lotterer and he won win the championship in sophomore season. He would add a second Formula Nippon/Super Formula title in 2014 and he would finish vice-champion again in 2015. In Super GT, Nakajima has five victories in GT500, finished third in the championship in 2013 and he won the 2014 Suzuka 1000km with James Rossiter.

The success of Formula One rejects extended into LMP2 where Jean-Éric Vergne, one of the drivers that forced Buemi out of Formula One only to same the same fate befall the Frenchman at the age of 24, won in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Gibson with Roman Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola. Vergne quickly landed in Formula E but while he had pace and picked up respectable results a victory eluded him until his 31st start and his third year in the series. He has made his way to sports cars the last two years and after a year with Manor Racing in WEC, he is three-for-three with G-Drive after taking the class victory in the WEC season opener at Spa-Francorchamps and he won at Monza in the European Le Mans Series. On top of his sports car success, Vergne leads the Formula E championship with Techeetah off the back of three victories this season and in a month he will head to New York City with a Formula E championship within his grasp.

To expand on the LMP2 winning entry, it took nine attempts for Rusinov to get his first class victory and he did it after twice finishing on the LMP2 class podium and once being kicked off it for an illegal fuel tank. Like Vergne, Pizzitola wins in his sophomore year in what has been a budding sports car career for the Frenchman and he will be a driver to keep an eye on for the next five years.

In GTE, both Pro and Am, Porsche dominated with Ford giving the German manufacture a run for its money in the Pro class but while the battle between Frédéric Makowiecki and Sébastien Bourdais will be remembered for a few days it was could not break the stranglehold and Porsche came out on top with a 1-2 finish with the #92 Porsche of Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre and Laurens Vanthoor taking the victory. It is the first Le Mans class victory for all three drivers. It is the first time Estre has finished a Le Mans in four starts. Christensen adds to his 24 Hours of Daytona GT Daytona class victory he picked up last year and his 2014 12 Hours of Sebring GT Le Mans class victory. Vanthoor has a long list of GT racing success. Before this class victory he won overall in the Spa 24 Hours in 2014, the 24 Hours Nürburgring in 2015 and the Dubai 24 Hour in 2016. On top of that Vanthoor has championships in the FIA GT Series, Blancpain Endurance Series, Blancpain GT Series and Intercontinental GT Challenge.

Porsche's victory in GTE-Am ended a three-year winning streak for Ferrari in the class and it is the first time Porsche has won in the class since 2013. Dempsey-Proton Racing was the team to beat with the #88 Porsche taking pole position in class and the #77 Porsche starting third. However, with the #88 Porsche falling out it was pretty much clear sailing for the #77 Porsche of Matt Campbell, Julien Andlauer and Christian Ried with strong runs from the Spirit of Race and Keating Motorsports Ferraris falling flat. Campbell and Andlauer are two of the rising stars in Porsche with Campbell being a Australian Carrera Cup champion and he finished third last year in the Porsche Supercup while Andlauer won the Carrera Cup France championship last year.

After the unpredictability of the last two years at Le Mans, this year stuck to the script. The Toyotas did not stumble. They dominated over the privateer LMP1 entries and even if the Toyotas were to be bitten again the Rebellion Racing entries were seven laps and six laps clear of the LMP2 winning G-Drive Racing Oreca.

Though the Balance of Performance, Equivalence of Technology and stint limits all were in the spotlight for longer than anyone annoyed in this year's race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans found another way to amaze us and we leave with more attention on history than when the race started.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

2018 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Preview

The second half of the 86th 24 Hours of Le Mans preview will breakdown the two GTE classes. The GTE-Pro class has 17 entries with six manufactures represented. Thirteen entries make up the GTE-Am class.

This preview goes entry-by-entry and gives you each driver with their number of Le Mans appearances, including this year in parentheses, followed by that entry's result on the Le Mans Test Day and a little additional information on each entry.

#51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Alessandro Pier Guidi (3rd), James Calado (3rd), Daniel Serra (2nd)
Test Day Result: 13th
About This Team: Calado and Pier Guidi are the defending World Endurance GT Drivers' champions but they finished 11th last year at Le Mans and opened this FIA World Endurance Championship season finishing ninth in class, nine laps down from the class winner. Serra won the GTE-Pro class last year with Aston Martin.  

#52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Toni Vilander (10th), Pipo Derani (4th), Antonio Giovinazzi (1st)
Test Day Result: 12th
About This Team: Vilander suffered his first retirement in nine years last year after having five class podiums in six years. Derani is making his fourth Le Mans appearance with his fourth different team. He finished second in GTE-Pro last year driving for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK. Giovinazzi is making his Le Mans debut. Last year, he started the first two races of the Formula One season with Sauber. Giovinazzi ran the WEC races at Fuji and Shanghai in 2016 in LMP2 with Extreme Speed Motorsports and finished second at class in Shanghai. This is the only 24 Hours of Le Mans-only entry in this year's race. All 59 other entries are tied to a series.

#63 Corvette Racing - GM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Jan Magnussen (20th), Antonio Garcià (13th), Mike Rockenfeller (9th)
Test Day Result: 11th
About This Team: Magnussen has not won at Le Mans since 2009 and Garcià has not won since 2011. They finished third in class last year after Jordan Taylor suffered a tire puncture while leading the class on the final lap. Mike Rockenfeller replaces Taylor. The German has not raced at Le Mans since 2012. His last six Le Mans starts were with the Audi LMP1 program.

#64 Corvette Racing - GM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Oliver Gavin (18th), Tommy Milner (10th), Marcel Fässler (13th)
Test Day Result: 10th
About This Team: Gavin and Milner won at Long Beach in April and it is the only victory for Corvette so far this IMSA season. Gavin and Milner are tied with Magnussen and Garcià in the IMSA championship on 111 points. Fässler is back with this Gavin and Milner after finishing eighth in class last year.   

#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK Ford GT
Drivers: Stefan Mücke (12th), Olivier Pla (11th), Billy Johnson (3rd)
Test Day Result: 4th
About This Team: This car won the season opener at Spa-Francorchamps. It was the trio's first outright class victory. They finished fourth in class in 2016 but was the top WEC championship-eligible team that year and finished tenth in class last year. Mücke has two class podium finishes at Le Mans, both coming with Aston Martin in 2012 and 2013. Pla finished second in the LMP2 class in 2013 when he drove for OAK Racing.

#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK Ford GT
Drivers: Andy Priaulx (5th), Harry Tincknell (5th), Tony Kanaan (2nd)
Test Day Result: 3rd
About This Team: Priaulx and Tincknell finished second in class last year and the duo finished third in the World Endurance GT Drivers' Championship after picking up victories at Silverstone and Shanghai. Kanaan returns for his second Le Mans appearance despite departing for Ganassi's IndyCar program for A.J. Foyt Racing. Kanaan finished sixth in class last year as an injury substitute for Sébastien Bourdais.

#68 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK Ford GT
Drivers: Joey Hand (4th), Dirk Müller (7th), Sébastien Bourdais (12th)
Test Day Result: 5th
About This Team: Bourdais is back after missing last year's race because of injuries suffered in Indianapolis 500 qualifying. This trio finished second in class this year at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Hand and Müller have not won since last August at Road America. Hand has finished on a class podium in two of his three Le Mans starts.  

#69 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK Ford GT
Drivers: Ryan Briscoe (5th), Scott Dixon (3rd), Richard Westbrook (8th)
Test Day Result: 6th
About This Team: This team won the GT Le Mans class at this year's 24 Hours of Daytona, leading a Ford 1-2 finish. Briscoe and Westbrook lead the GTLM championship entering Le Mans. This trio finished third in GTE-Pro in 2016. Dixon enters Le Mans as the IndyCar championship leader and he has won a race the last two consecutive weekends.

#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Davide Rigon (5th), Sam Bird (5th), Miguel Molina (2nd)
Test Day Result: 9th
About This Team: Rigon and Bird will co-drivers for a third consecutive year. Molina joined the team last year and they finished 5th in class. Rigon and Bird finished second in class in the WEC season opener from Spa-Francorchamps while Miguel Molina has won in the European Le Mans Series and Pirelli World Challenge SprintX season this year. Rigon and Molina won the Gulf 12 Hours last December.

Drivers: Martin Tomczyk (1st), Nicky Catsburg (1st), Philipp Eng (2nd)
Test Day Result: 8th
About This Team: Tomczyk won the 2011 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship and he won last year in IMSA at Laguna Seca. Catsburg spent the last two seasons racing in the World Touring Car Championship and he finished fifth in the championship with his lone victory being at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Eng returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2016 when he raced for Dempsey-Proton Racing. Eng has two podium finishes this season in the DTM.

Drivers: Augusto Farfus (3rd), António Félix da Costa (1st), Alexander Sims (2nd)
Test Day Result: 15th
About This Team: Farfus is back at Le Mans for the first time since 2011 when BMW last fielded factory entries. Farfus still competes in the DTM but since finishing runner-up in the championship in 2013 he has not won in his last 70 starts and he has not finished on the podium in his last 39 starts. Da Costa has spent the last four years racing in Formula E and the last two years for the Andretti Autosport operation. Sims won three races last year in IMSA at Watkins Glen, Mosport and Road Atlanta and he finished second in the GTLM championship. He has finished second at Sebring and Mid-Ohio this year.  

#91 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Richard Lietz (12th), Frédéric Makowiecki (8th), Gianmaria Bruni (10th)
Test Day Result: 2nd
About This Team: Bruni is back after having to sit out last year's race as he transitioned from Ferrari to Porsche. This is Bruni's first time racing at Le Mans for a manufacture other than Ferrari. His last WEC victory was 2016 at the Nürburgring. Lietz has not won in WEC since Shanghai 2015 despite having six podium finishes last season. Makowiecki is the only driver in this lineup yet to win at Le Mans with Bruni and Lietz each having three class victories.  

#92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Michael Christensen (4th), Kévin Estre (4th), Laurens Vanthoor (3rd)
Test Day Result: 7th
About This Team: Christensen's best class finish at Le Mans was fifth in 2015 and he and Estre finished second in the WEC season opener at Spa-Francorchamps. Estre has retired from all three of his prior Le Mans starts. Vanthoor was one of Estre's co-driver in 2015 with OAK Racing in LMP2. The Belgian's only other Le Mans appearance was 2016 with Michael Shank Racing. Vanthoor won at Mid-Ohio last month in IMSA.

#93 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Patrick Pilet (10th), Nick Tandy (6th), Earl Bamber (4th)
Test Day Result: 1st
About This Team: Bamber won Le Mans overall two of the last three years with Tandy being his co-driver with Nico Hülkenberg in 2015. Bamber was Vanthoor's co-driver in that Mid-Ohio victory last month. Tandy and Pilet won in class in the 12 Hours of Sebring in March. Pilet's only class podium at Le Mans came in 2013 when he finished second in GTE-Pro with Timo Bernhard and Jörg Bergmeister.

#94 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Romain Dumas (18th), Timo Bernhard (12th), Sven Müller (1st)
Test Day Result: 14th
About This Team: Dumas and Bernhard are paired together for the first time at Le Mans since 2011. Dumas won the last time he competed in GTE-Pro at Le Mans in 2013. Bernhard picked up his second overall Le Mans victory last year. His only GT class victory at Le Mans came on debut with The Racer's Group in 2002 with Kevin Buckler and Lucas Luhr. Müller makes his Le Mans debut. He was the 2016 Porsche Supercup champion. His only WEC start was at Spa-Francorchamps in 2015 and he finished third in class.

#95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Marco Sørensen (4th), Nicki Thiim (5th), Darren Turner (16th)
Test Day Result: 17th
About This Team: Sørensen and Thiim will be co-drivers at Le Mans for the fourth consecutive year and Turner is their third driver for the second time. Turner picked up his third Le Mans class victory and first in nine years last year. Turner is also competing in the British GT Championship this year and he is currently third in that championship with Andrew Howard as his co-driver.

#97 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Alex Lynn (2nd), Maxime Martin (4th), Jonathan Adam (3rd)
Test Day Result: 16th
About This Team: Adam was apart of last year's GTE-Pro winning lineup. He won the opening race of the British GT Championship with Flick Haigh. Lynn made his Le Mans debut last year with G-Drive Racing but that car retired after only 20 laps. Lynn is competing full-time in Formula E this year with DS Virgin Racing. After spending four years racing for BMW in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, Martin makes his first Le Mans appearance since 2013. He made one start in LMP1 and two starts in LMP2 in this race.

#54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Thomas Flöhr (2nd), Francesco Castellacci (3rd), Giancarlo Fisichella (9th)
Test Day Result: 2nd
About This Team: Flöhr and Castellacci finished 12th in class last year and they won at Fuji last year. These two drivers won the Pro-Am class in the 2016 Gulf 12 Hours. Fisichella is making his first start in the GTE-Am class. He has five class podium finishes in eight starts. Last year was the first time Fisichella retired in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

#56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Jörg Bergmeiseter (16th), Patrick Lindsey (1st), Egidio Perfetti (1st)
Test Day Result: 10th
About This Team: Bergmeister is back after not racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time since 2001. This will be his first time competing in the GTE-Am class. His lone class victory came in 2004. This team finished ninth in class at Spa-Francorchamps, dead last in class. Lindsey won the GT Daytona class in the 2015 Petit Le Mans. Perfetti raced at Circuit de la Sarthe in 2016 in the Michelin GT3 Cup race and he finished third in the GT3 class.

#61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Weng Sun Mok (3rd), Matt Griffin (7th), Keita Sawa (3rd)
Test Day Result: 3rd
About This Team:  This trio finished fifth in class last year and they finished third in the WEC season opener last month. Griffin finished on the GTE-Am podium in 2013. The team has seven podium finishes in the last ten WEC races.

#70 MR Racing Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Olivier Beretta (22nd), Eddie Cheever III (1st), Motoaki Ishikawa (1st)
Test Day Result: 9th
About This Team: Beretta is back and he is looking for this seventh class victory. Cheever III ran the first two races of the IMSA season with Spirit of Daytona Racing in the Prototype class. His father Eddie Cheever made three Le Mans starts with his final one coming in 1987 driving for Silk Cut Jaguar with Jan Lammers and Raul Boesel. This team finished fifth in GTE-Am at Spa-Francorchamps last month.

#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Christian Ried (9th), Matt Campbell (1st), Julien Andlauer (1st)
Test Day Result: 1st
About This Team: Ried's only Le Mans class podium was in 2014 when he finished second in class. Campbell finished third in the Porsche Supercup championship last year and he won the final three races of that season. This team finished fourth at Spa-Francorchamps.

#80 Ebimotors Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Fabio Babini (8th), Christina Nielsen (3rd), Erik Maris (5th)
Test Day Result: 12th
About This Team: Babini returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2009. He had two consecutive runner-up finishes in GT2 in his final two Le Mans appearances but he won the GT class in 2001. Nielsen has won the GT Daytona championship the last two years in IMSA and this will be her first Le Mans start not in a Ferrari. Maris ran in the LMP2 class the last three years.

#84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Liam Griffin (2nd), Cooper MacNiel (4th), Jeff Segal (3rd)
Test Day Result: 7th
About This Team: Griffin won the ELMS season opener but he has two different co-drivers than his ELMS lineup. MacNeil finished third in GTE-Am last year in his first Le Mans appearance since 2014. Segal won the GTE-Am class in 2016 with Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell.

#85 Keating Motorsports Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen (13th), Ben Keating (4th), Luca Stolz (1st)
Test Day Result: 6th
About This Team: For the fourth consecutive year Bleekemolen and Keating are co-drivers and this is their fourth different third driver in four years. The last two years they had competed in LMP2. Bleekemolen won the LMP2 class at Le Mans in 2008 with Peter van Merksteijn, Sr. and Jos Verstappen. This lineup finished third in GT Daytona at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March and Bleekemolen and Stolz finished third overall at the Bathurst 12 Hour driving for Black Swan Racing.

#86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Michael Wainwright (4th), Ben Barker (3rd), Alex Davison (2nd)
Test Day Result: 8th
About This Team: Wainwright and Barker finished third in class last year at Mexico City and Barker finished second at Shanghai. This is Davison's first Le Mans appearance since 2008 when he was co-drivers were Wolf Henzler and Horst Felbermayr, Sr. in GT2.

#88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Matteo Cairoli (2nd), Khaled Al Qubaisi (6th), Giorgio Roda (1st)
Test Day Result: 4th
About This Team: Cairoli finished sixth last year on his Le Mans debut but he won twice last year in GTE-Am at Nürburgring and Mexico City. Roda is competing full-time in ELMS. He finished second at Circuit Paul Ricard and he won last year in ELMS at Spa-Francorchamps. Al Qubaisi finished second in GTE-Am in 2014 and third in GTE-Am in 2016.

#90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Drivers: Euan Hankey (2nd), Charlie Eastwood (1st), Salih Yoluç (2nd)
Test Day Result: 11th
About This Team: Hankey and Yoluç made their Le Mans debuts last year and finished seventh in class and they finished second in the ELMS GT Championship. Eastwood won the Porsche Carrera Cup GB championship last year. This team finished second at Spa-Francorchamps last month.

#98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana (6th), Pedro Lamy (19th), Mathias Lauda (4th)
Test Day Result: 13th
About This Team: This team won the Spa-Francorchamps season opener and they got that elusive FIA Endurance Trophy for LMGTE Am Drivers championship last year. This is the trio's fourth consecutive Le Mans together and their best finish is eighth in class. They were slowest on the Le Mans test day but they were the slowest in the Prologue test and went on to win the season opener.

#99 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Patrick Long (15th), Tim Pappas (1st), Spencer Pumpelly (5th)
Test Day Result: 5th
About This Team: Long has not won a class at Le Mans since 2007 but finished second and third in GTE-Am in 2015 and 2016. Pumpelly returns to Le Mans for the first time since 2014. He finished fourth in GTE-Am in 2012 driving in an all-American lineup for Flying Lizard Motorsports. Pappas has twice finished runner-up in the GT Daytona class in the 24 Hours of Daytona and he finished third at the Bathurst 12 Hour this year. He won the GTC class in the 2011 12 Hours of Sebring.

Practice begins today at 10:00 a.m. ET with a four-hour session. The first qualifying session is set for 4:00 p.m. ET and will be two hours long. Thursday will see a two-hour qualifying session at 1:00 p.m. ET with the final qualifying session that night at 4:00 p.m. ET. The morning warm-up will be held at 3:00 a.m. ET on Saturday. The race starts at 9:00 a.m. ET.