Tuesday, April 30, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: April 2019

There was a lot of news this month with IndyCar, Formula One, NASCAR, MotoGP, Formula E and World Superbike all in action. IndyCar looks toward the month of May. Formula One is heading into its European portion of the season. Formula E is already in its European portion of the season. NASCAR has gone to the historic tracks of Bristol, Richmond and Talladega. MotoGP came to the United States and now heads to Spain. World Superbike has a new villain. It is great! There is plenty on the plate each weekend and sometime too much to digest. With all the action, we got a lot of headlines.

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.

We are going IndyCar heavy this month and that is where we will start.

In Dixon's eyes, starting second is just one spot from first
Isn't second just one spot from first to every driver?

I know Dixon is a pretty optimistic guy and he will take a second starting position because he knows how to position himself to take the lead through pit strategy if needed but I don't think any other driver looks at second and thinks he or she is a million miles from first and it will not be possible to obtain.

I am sure most drivers prefer to start first over second but I am sure every driver has the same viewpoint as second on the grid.

NTT IndyCar Series driver Max Chilton: Not interested to returning to F1 as a backmarker
To be fair, no F1 backmarking team is interested in having Chilton back.

Yes, that is a shot at Chilton because his IndyCar results over the last year and a quarter have been terrible, but I am not sure anyone was all that interested in bringing Chilton back. I don't think any team in Formula One is looking at any IndyCar drivers. Chilton would bring money and that would be enticing to a few teams (Williams).

I am not sure what Formula One team could sweep a top tier IndyCar driver away from the series. You would think any Formula One team would be an upgrade but does running at the back outrank winning races in IndyCar? No driver is going to Williams. Racing Point is wishy-washy. Red Bull doesn't hire drivers and I am sure most don't want to get caught in that mess. Mercedes is not going to come calling. Ferrari is not going to come calling. Is Haas worth it? Is Renault worth it? Alfa Romeo is Ferrari's reserve team. Does anyone want to take a chance on McLaren?

There are really only three teams worth listening to: Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. I think you may take a shot on Alfa Romeo or Toro Rosso because one or two excellent seasons at those teams could lead to a promotion and you may take a look at McLaren if it got itself in an encouraging situation.

Howard drops 2019 Indy 500 bid
Did Jay Howard drop the bid or did the IndyCar grid drop its interest in Jay Howard?

Howard was fortunate to get a shot the last two years after being out of a car for so long. He brought some money and it ran its course. I am not sure how likely he was going to get a ride this year. The number of interested drivers has only increased and the talent of those drivers has increased as well. Think that Carlos Muñoz has completed all 200 miles in each of his six Indianapolis 500 starts and he has five top ten finishes and he likely will not be at Indianapolis this year. Gabby Chaves has been a consistent driver over his IndyCar career and has not torn up a lot of equipment and he will be on the sidelines.

Howard's time may have just expired.

Focus still on February for international expansion - Miles
We have been waiting for February international expansion under Mark Miles since day one in 2013 and it has yet to come. I am not holding out any hope of it coming in the next two or three years.

I am not sure IndyCar needs to go after international races in February. The series has done well in the Mark Miles-era and a lot of people want another IndyCar race or two and a lot of people want to return to Australia and Japan and an international sanctioning fee could be a big coup for the series but I think the series is in a good place.

Another year of chasing international races and coming up with nothing is not a good look. It harps back to the Terry Angstadt-era when it seemed like every year he threw out two or three international races and none of them happened. Angstadt was talking about races in Dubai and Mexico City before it was cool.

I think IndyCar should be happy with what is has got and if an international race happens then great, if the next race to join the schedule is a domestic event then just as good but I think it would be fine to go silent when it comes to flyaway races in February.

IndyCar says third engine manufacture is 'a necessity'
IndyCar has been doing well with two manufactures for nearly seven seasons and for five of the six seasons before that the series had one manufacture. Twelve of the last 13 seasons have had fewer than three manufactures. A third engine manufacture is not a necessity but it would be damn good for the series and provide some relief.

INDYCAR leaders see new manufactures coming soon, one way or another
What does that mean? Mind you that this article came from IndyCar's own website, i.e. state media.

Does this mean IndyCar is willing to relax the new engine manufactures from 2.4 L V6 to allow something larger or smaller or with more or fewer cylinders? Will IndyCar allow more in-season development? What does IndyCar know?

Add to that the recent Porsche news and though that might not come to fruition IndyCar is really pushing for that third manufacture and it cannot afford to not add to its current crop of engine suppliers. We will have to wait and see but the deadline for committing to a 2022 engine program is approaching.

On to Formula One!

Will F1 make it to a 2000th world championship race?
Yeah, probably.

Let's not get too philosophical here. Formula One isn't going away. It might be crazy to think Formula One will be around for the next century but it has already been here for 70 years, the Indianapolis 500 dates back 108 years and barring another world war, climate change completely fucking up the Earth or a dictatorship succeeding in world domination Formula One will be around.

Another way to look at it is when the 2019 season ends Formula One will have had 1,018 races, 982 races from the 2000th race. If Formula One averages 20 races a season it will take 49.1 seasons to reach the 2000th race, meaning the 2000th race would be the second round of the 2069 season. If Formula One averages 22 races a season it will take 44.636 seasons to reach 2000th, meaning the 14th round of the 2,064 season. Those years sounds far away but consider we are closer to either of those years than the first Formula One race in 1950.

The 2000th race will be here before you know it.

Monza needs €60 million "urgently" for track renovation?
This seems like a familiar song.

Monza is in trouble. Monza is going to lose the Italian Grand Prix. Monza needs money. Monza remains on the calendar.

Maybe this is the time the FIA is serious and it is ready to pull the Italian Grand Prix from Monza or worst of all pull the Italian Grand Prix entirely from the schedule. That is a lot of money and Monza isn't that badly out of shape. It has paved over a lot or run-off area and the garages are relatively modern. Could the grandstands be updated? Probably but it gets the job done in holding the crowd.

I am not sure where you get €60 million in an urgent manner. I guess sheiks but I am not sure any of them are interested in propping up Monza. After all, if they were going to spend €60 million to help some Italians they would just spending €1 billion, build a racetrack in their own country and attract a grand prix that will have at most 15,000 spectators.

I have a hunch Monza will be fine.

Räikkönen: Drain cover incident made F1 look like "amateurs"
Don't you worry Kimi Räikkönen, IndyCar has had plenty of amateur moments.

Remember the train tracks at San Jose? Or at Baltimore?

Remember the bumps at Houston and the makeshift chicane installed for a practice day?

Remember the standing starts where Sebastian Saavedra couldn't figure it out and then he ended up on pole position for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis because of a dry-to-wet qualifying session only for him to stall and be clobbered from behind?

Remember the indecision over going green in the first Toronto race in 2014 in the wet?

Remember when Brian Barnhart decided to let a race go green at Loudon when everyone else saw it was raining?

Formula One is just fine.

Formula E had a doozy of a headline.

Saudi 'Christmas Race' Possible for Season Six Opener
I am not sure about a Christmas race and I wonder how much push back this will get.

The last thing the teams will want is to be working days before Christmas and then have to rush home to be with family or worst of all, having torn up equipment that has to be addressed immediately, which means spending Christmas in a shop.

I am all for December races for Formula E. It is a gap in the schedule and the series should take advantage of it but it doesn't have to race days before Christmas. The weekend before that would be fine. I even proposed a New Year's race similar to Formula One and the early years of the South African Grand Prix but give the teams Christmas.

We got one NASCAR-related article.

CRANDALL: When 15th is as good as a win
When you only need 15th to clinch a championship, not when one of Richard Childress' grandsons is having a day better than 24th.

Time for some bike stuff.

Can Rossi pull off his own Tiger Woods moment?
The Tiger Woods comparisons were a nuisance this month.

For starters, let's not act like Tiger Woods had overcome something great. Yes, he had back injuries but this all stems from an extramarital affair. Coming back from getting caught isn't something to celebrate. He thought he was invisible and caught with his pants down. He then had over a decade of mediocrity and then won another major tournament. Whoop-dee-doo.

Oh, and all you punks who think you are hot shit for pointing out Alex Zanardi coming back from losing his legs or Niki Lauda returning after nearly burning to death, you don't get a medal. We get it. All comebacks are different and of different magnitudes. These comebacks do not disqualify all other trials of adversity athletes from other sports face.

Bautista's dominance a "disaster" for WSBK - Rea
Oh the irony.

And we end on a whimper.

Rosberg turned down DTM wildcard chance
What a buzzkill.

This is what Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters needs and what else is Nico Rosberg doing? He is another boat thinking he is fighting for a greater cause and is hawking Formula E. Be a race car driver. Go run a DTM race. It might be tough. All these drivers have far more seat time but get out there.

Rosberg would stand to gain respect if he accepted the offer and not turned it down. Who cares if he doesn't score points. Making the effort is all that matters. You got to take a chance but Rosberg is more concerned with protecting his pride and let everyone remember him as a world champion. He is a bit clever. He knows a lackadaisical weekend in the DTM will only fuel people who will point out that he won the world championship but couldn't beat the likes of Jamie Green, Marco Wittmann, Timo Glock, Bruno Spengler or Nico Müller.

It is a bit disappointing Rosberg is that concerned with protecting his ego.

That is enough for April. It ends with a rain shower where I sit. The showers are supposed to bring the flowers of May. Life is sprouting on the trees and soon we will have cars on track at Spa-Francorchamps, Monaco and Indianapolis. This is not a bad time of the year.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Should Formula One Return to Indianapolis?

Valtteri Bottas made up for last year and won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, giving him back the lead in the World Drivers' Championship. Formula E had its first proper wet race and I think we learned that this series needs an actual wet weather tire because a lot of cars slid into the barriers and off course and it wasn't puddling. The Supercross championship is pretty much done and dusted. NASCAR was in Talladega and people are still not happy. There was GT3 action in Virginia, a rally in Argentina and touring cars in Hungary. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Should Formula One Return to Indianapolis?
Liberty Media has been in the expansion business ever since it took over Formula One and one area where the company wants to expand is in the United States.

We have been hearing rumblings of a second race in the United States for years. Even before the period of no United States race from 2008-2011 the Formula One manufactures expressed the desire to be in the United States and a second race was in the conversation then.

It is arguable that the United States needs to get one stable event. Austin is in its eighth year but it has had plenty of struggles and it lost $20 million in state funding when it failed to complete a human trafficking prevention plan. Every year seems to be another with fingers crossed because you never know when Formula One will walk away, especially when it is looking at as many venues as it currently is, including in the United States.

The problem is not many of those other United States venues have really gotten off the ground. It doesn't help that none of those exist. Remember Weehawken, New Jersey, in the shadows of Manhattan? That had a full-fledged course, a pit building being constructed and a date on the calendar and it never came to be. I wouldn't hold my breathe on it happening ever let alone in the near future. Even before Liberty Media, Las Vegas was being thrown around but we have never seen a proposed circuit or heard any names behind such a venture. Miami has people behind it, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross being the leader of such a proposal. A course was laid out around in the same area IndyCar and Formula E once used but it was met with a fair amount of pushback and it has been pulled off the table. The difference is Ross has turned his attention from a downtown venue to a course around Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the football team he owns.

With a race popping up in Vietnam and other endeavors explored in Denmark, Netherlands, Finland and Argentina there is no guarantee there will be room for a second race in the United States but if there is going to be one, why not go to the only other FIA Grade 1 circuit, a place that has hosted Formula One and is an existing racetrack, Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

You may be thinking we have tried Indianapolis Motor Speedway and after the initial excitement and staggering crowds burned off the race became ho-hum and the 2005 tire fiasco did more damage. While still drawing a respectable size crowd compared to other Formula One races, Indianapolis suffers from its size in some cases. It could draw 100,000 people or even 150,000 people and it would still look empty. On top of that, the road course at Indianapolis met the FIA criteria for a Grade 1 circuit but the actual on-track action left little to be desired.

Why am I asking should Formula One return to Indianapolis?

For starters, it already qualifies to host Formula One. It is an existing track. It doesn't need government funding, it doesn't need approval to close roads and it doesn't need an abundance of track updates, although I am sure a few are needed since the last time Formula One race there in 2007.

While Indianapolis might not draw 250,000 people it would still bring together a large amount of people. Indianapolis is a home of motorsports in the United States. It is meant for big events and it may be the best place for Formula One to try something new.

Since Liberty Media has taken over, Formula One has become more fan-friendly. It is still Formula One. It is still buttoned up and the divide between the drivers and the fans that come out to see them is still very impenetrable unless you have tons of money or know the right people and can get a VIP pass. However, if there is one racetrack that is set up for a great fan experience it is Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Formula One needs a fan-friendly event and Indianapolis would be the perfect Petri dish for the experiment. Other Formula One tracks might not be set up for an influx of fans into areas they otherwise would not be allowed but it would be nothing new to Indianapolis. It gives fans an up-close experience each May and for the NASCAR weekend. Another three days would be nothing new for the track.

On top of bringing Formula One closer, this fan-friendly event would not only apply to access but pricing. We hear about the outrageous pricing at every grand prix, whether it be in Europe, Asia, Australia or North America. Why not have Indianapolis be the price friendly event as well? I know that is a lot easier to say than do because of sanctioning fees but with Liberty Media adding races and in turn getting more in terms of sanctioning fees it could afford to use one event as an experiment and at a discount rate. It would be nice to have one event where spectators do not have to spend a fortune to see Formula One cars compete and also have the luxury of getting close for a good price as well.

There are hurdles. The course Formula One used at Indianapolis has been altered and the IndyCar course is shorter than the FIA regulated circuit length. The only track to receive a waiver for length is Monaco. However, length really doesn't matters. It is all a matter of semantics. If Monaco can receive a waiver, Indianapolis could receive a waiver for its 2.439-mile circuit. If Baku can receive a waiver because the section near the castle is too tight then missing out on the minimum circuit length by less than a tenth of a mile should not matter.

As a matter of fact, why not have this race be a longer race? Why not have this race stand out from all the rest? Instead of an event around 305km, why not have a 400km race around the IMS road course, 102 laps in total? It would at least mix it up. Why not force teams to use three tire compounds during the race? It might force the teams to have a pit stop for fuel but I am sure there is a way Formula One could regulate that in a safe manner and not repeat the woes we saw a decade ago.

Giving the fans more for less is what Indianapolis is all about. Think about ticket pricing for the Indianapolis 500. It could be a lot more expensive than it is but the track has yet to gouge every penny out of the spectators. I think track president Doug Boles is the right man for promoting the fan-friendly Formula One grand prix and he could pack the place while also breaking down the barrier between fans, drivers and teams and making the change comfortable for the drivers and teams who would be prone to a bit of a culture shock.

A place on the calendar would be hard to find. Indianapolis once followed the Canadian Grand Prix and that would make sense but mid-June is close to the Indianapolis 500 and that date did put the facility under a time crunch. Starting in 2020, NASCAR will race on July 4th weekend at Indianapolis, further ruling out a June date. We saw the NASCAR race struggle in the heat of August and though it will only have two years in September, it does not appear that date will be remembered fondly for NASCAR. When Formula One first went to Indianapolis it was in late-September but things have changed and football is bigger in this country. We have seen Austin draw a great crowd despite running on a Sunday during football season in Texas. Indianapolis might be fine if it returned to the schedule in autumn but it might be too close to the Austin race.

Indianapolis will not be returning to the Formula One schedule in 2020 and I do not think the track is actively seeking Formula One back but Indianapolis is in a position where it could give something Formula One it does not have: a second United States race without many headaches and proposing a Formula One race that would stand out from the other 20 on the schedule. Indianapolis is in a position of power if it so chooses to use it.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Valtteri Bottas but did you know....

Jack Aitken and Nicholas Latifi split the Formula Two races from Baku.

Robin Frijns won the Paris ePrix.

Chase Elliott won the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega. Tyler Reddick won the Grand National Series race.

Thierry Neuville won Rally Argentina, his second consecutive victory.

The #9 K-PAX Racing Bentley of Álvaro Parente and Andy Soucek and the #3 K-PAX Racing Bentley of Rodrigo Baptiste and Maxime Soulet split the Blancpain World Challenge America races from Virginia International Raceway.

Cooper Webb won the Supercross race from East Rutherford, New Jersey, his seventh victory of the season.

Néstor Girolami won the first two World Touring Car Cup races from Hungaroring with Gabriele Tarquini taking the third race.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP has its first European round from Jerez for the Spanish Grand Prix.
NASCAR will head to Dover.
IMSA has all its classes back together at Mid-Ohio.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season opens at Hockenheim and Aston Martin makes its debut.
Blancpain World Challenge Europe is at Brands Hatch for its season opener.
The Supercross season closes in Las Vegas.
The FIA World Endurance Championship returns to Spa-Francorchamps for the second time this season in the penultimate round of this season.
Super GT will be at Fuji.
Supercars will be at Barbagallo Raceway.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Who, What, Where, Why? NASCAR Part I

A few days ago I rolled out something new and looked at drivers that have never raced in IndyCar, have only a few IndyCar starts and those drivers that were regulars but have been gone for a while and would be interesting to see return for one race and with what team should field that driver. Today, we are going to do the same with NASCAR.

Things are going to be different with NASCAR. Obviously the never started a race category remains the same but there are more NASCAR races and deciding between what is rare and what is a comeback is where things change. Anyone with fewer than say two full seasons in Cup would be considered "rare." That seems like a stretch but when you compare say 56 starts to a driver that made 400 starts, one is making a full-blown comeback and the other is just getting another opportunity.

As for the comeback category, it could be really boring, mostly because a lot of big names have retired but I didn't include any of those names. You are not going to see Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. You got to keep it interesting and rehashing the same six or seven drivers would be boring.

One other thing: There aren't that many good teams in NASCAR. Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing: That's the list and there are more teams I would not send a driver to than I would. A couple other teams are included in this but I wasn't going to send a driver to Front Row Motorsports or Richard Childress Racing. That wouldn't be worth it.

We will save the comebacks for the end and start with those who have never been in the Cup series before.

Nick Tandy
What: Team Penske Ford
Where: Richmond
Why:  Tandy has voiced his desired to not only run a NASCAR race someday but a short track and I think if there is one place the Porsche factory driver and Le Mans winner should try it is Richmond. I think it would provide a challenge for him but it would not be completely foreign to him. Add to the equation a Team Penske Ford and Tandy would not be taking on this challenge with a weight around his neck. It would be the best scenario for him to make the attempt.

Scott McLaughlin
What: Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Where: Watkins Glen
Why: Because McLaughlin inevitably will end up in NASCAR. He is eventually going to win 70% of the races this Supercars season and he will likely win at least half of the races next year. He will be close to 50 victories in the blink of an eye and by 2021 he will be heading across the Pacific to the United States. He drives for Penske in Supercars but we got to mix this up a bit and we got to put him in a Wood Brothers Ford because it is Penske's reserve team and it would be nice to see a New Zealander drive for the Wood Brothers, similar to when Australian Marcos Ambrose first came to the United States. As for why Watkins Glen, because that short course is quick and I think it would suit McLaughlin quite nicely.

Will Power
What: Team Penske Ford
Where: Texas
Why: This is topical because Will Power was just on Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s podcast and said he would like to drive a Cup car on an oval and he specifically said he wants to run a 1.5-mile oval. Power has won at Texas, Penske needs to have more fun than just allowing the drivers to do videos for Twitter, put Power in an extra car at Texas. Obviously the autumn race would be the better option because at that point Power will have been off for six weeks but NASCAR has made it schedule really boring because of the playoff format and no one takes a chance to have some fun. These ten races become boring focusing on 16 or 12 or eight drivers. We need something else to watch in November and having Power fill the field at Texas would be great.

Colin Braun
What: Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Where: Michigan
Why: Braun has a very diverse résumé for someone who has just turned 30 years old. He has started in the 24 Hours of Daytona for half of his life and that is not an exaggeration. This year was Braun's 15th 24 Hours of Daytona start. He made his Le Mans debut in 2007 and, oddly, hasn't been back since. Ten years ago, Braun was a NASCAR development driver for Roush Fenway Racing. He was entering his second year in the Truck series and won at Michigan on his way to finishing fifth in the championship. He had a spell in NASCAR's second division but he never got an extended period in NASCAR. I think he could have made it to the Cup series and while he would likely succeed on a road course, why not bring him back to Michigan and with the team that supported him a decade ago?

Romain Dumas
What: Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Where: Daytona
Why: The Frenchman has raced everything and everywhere. Dumas has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, twice, a world championship, won in the American Le Mans Series, he scored a point in the World Rally Championship, he has made multiple starts in the Dakar Rally and he has won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb four times. The man has done a little bit of everything and he should add an oval to that. Why not the Daytona 500?

Plenty of great European-based drivers have raced in the Daytona 500. Jo Schlesser had a 13th place finish in his only Daytona 500 start in 1964. Vic Elford had an 11th place finish in 1969 and 10th in 1972. Pedro Rodríguez was 13th in his only Daytona 500 start in 1971. In recent years, Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti each raced in the Daytona 500. Jacques Villeneuve failed to qualify for the Daytona 500. I think Dumas could do it.

Why Ganassi? We got to change it up but I am sure he would fit in.

Daniel Ricciardo
What: Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Where: Martinsville
Why: There had to be one Formula One driver of note but instead of cherry picking Lewis Hamilton, let's take Daniel Ricciardo. I think he would enjoy it more and I think he would just blend in. Ricciardo would be a kid in a candy store. He is nothing but smiles already but I think he would get joy out of everything. I don't know how many hot dogs he has had in his life but he would have four or five a day.

We have seen road course drivers go to Martinsville and acclimate well. It is not a high-speed oval and the nature of on and off the throttle could allow him to adjust quickly. Hendrick Motorsports has had some success at Martinsville and Chase Elliott has been close to victory at the track in the last few races. It would at least be a competitive car for the Australian.

Who should get a few more chances?

Brett Moffitt
What: Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Where: Atlanta
Why: Moffitt famously finished eighth in his first Cup race with Michael Waltrip Racing at Atlanta in 2015. It was his eighth career start. Four years later and Moffitt has only made 45 career Cup starts. He returned to the Truck Series and took a popular championship victory last year. This weekend at Talladega marks only his third start in NASCAR's second division.

Many have not forgotten what he did at Atlanta and outside of those few starts at MWR, the rest of his Cup career was at Identity Ventures Racing (what a terrible team name), Front Row Racing and BK Racing. He has been far from the best equipment but a shot in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at Atlanta would be a chance for him to shine in a Cup car again. He won at Atlanta in Trucks last year and he finished fourth there this year. I think he could better that 2015 result under these circumstances.

Matt Crafton
What: Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Where: Charlotte
Why: Because Crafton has only made one Cup start and that is surprising! That one start was the 2015 Daytona 500 substituting for the injured Kyle Busch. It is quite a one start to have, NASCAR's grandest race and he didn't even have to qualify for it... well I guess with charters he doesn't have to worry about qualifying but he didn't qualify the car, nor did he run one of the qualifying races. Few drivers can say they started the Daytona 500 and didn't get behind the wheel of the car until race day and he finished a respectable 18th.

I want to see Crafton get his full shot at a Cup race. The only time he has been entered and participated in practice was at Indianapolis in 2014, failing to qualify for RAB Racing. The man has won two Truck championships and 14 races. I would love to see him get a shot at the Coca-Cola 600 and drive for Stewart-Haas Racing, partnered with his former boss Kevin Harvick. If he has one of NASCAR's big three races down, he mind as well get a shot at another.

Parker Kligerman
What: Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Where: Chicagoland
Why: Kligerman is active and he has a good schedule lined up this year with Gaunt Brothers Racing but he has only made 18 Cup starts entering this weekend. Kligerman is a drive who hasn't caught a break. He has had a few opportunities but none of any substance. He was a race winner and nearly a champion in ARCA. The Penske development deal didn't take him anywhere. He was unceremoniously fired from Brad Keselowski's Truck team and then went on to win a race that season on his way to a fifth place championship finish. He got one season in NASCAR's second division with Kyle Busch's team and then the funding ran out after he finished ninth in the championship.

Kligerman should be behind a race car more than he is on television but he has pieced together a nice career for himself and is living the best of both worlds getting to race part-time in the Cup and Truck series and having a full-time TV gig but I think he would do really well in a one-off Cup effort with Joe Gibbs Racing. It would be a big break for him and Chicagoland is a place he has run well. He has two top five finishes in his only two Truck starts at the track, he has two top ten finishes in his three Grand National Series starts and he has never driven a Cup car there. It may be a surprising place for him to succeed.

Ryan Truex
What: Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Where: Loudon
Why: Because Loudon is one of the Truex family's 32 home tracks and Joe Gibbs Racing because it would be nice to see him and his brother be teammates once. Add to that Truex has won at Loudon in the East series.

Patrick Long
What: Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Where: Sonoma
Why: I could not remember if Long had ever started a Cup race but I knew he had made some starts in the West series, one infamous because he spun Joey Logano and got the Ricky Rudd treatment, didn't receive the checkered flag and the officials dropped him to last car on the lead lap. Listen to the entire story in Long's Dinner with Racers interview.

Long did make one Cup start but I think you will have to forgive me for forgetting it because it lasted all of those two laps at Watkins Glen in 2012 with Inception Motorsports. I would love to see him get his shot at a Cup race and at Sonoma nonetheless. We have not seen many road course ringers in recent years and definitely not with a top tier team. I think Long would be running in the top ten.

Andy Lally
What: JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
Where: Charlotte Roval
Why: Lally was the 2011 NASCAR Cup Rookie of the Year driving for TRG, granted he was the only full-time rookie that season. He has not made a Cup start since 2011 but in recent years he has been a road course ringer in the Grand National Series and he has picked up some impressive results with smaller teams, notably he has finished in the top five with SS-Green Light Racing at Mid-Ohio and top ten finishes with King Autosport and DGM Racing.

I would live to see Lally get another shot at Cup but I think it would be great to see what he could do in a B-level team and JTG Daugherty Racing fits that description. The team has had road course success with AJ Allmendinger and I think it would be suitable for Lally. With Watkins Glen and Sonoma take he will have to settle for the Charlotte roval.

Who should back a comeback?

Regan Smith
What: Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Where: Darlington
Why: Smith is in a similar boat to Kligerman; economics is keeping him from competing full-time and he has supplemented the lack of driving with television but the difference is Smith has had multiple full seasons in Cup and the Grand National Series.

Despite Smith's success in both series, highlighted with a Southern 500 victory, he should still be competing. He is only 35 years old. He should at least get another shot at Darlington and he has proven he could do wonders in a Hendrick car.

Justin Allgaier
What: Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Where: Dover
Why: Because Allgaier has shown he should be back in a Cup car. His career has been other up and down. He had success with Team Penske but got jumped in the pecking order when the team could snatch Brad Keselowski from Hendrick Motorsports. Allgaier moved to Turner Motorsports and kept up the results. It led to a Cup opportunity but with HScott Motorsports and after two difficult seasons, he went back down to the Grand National Series with JR Motorsports.

Since returning, he has finished third, third and seventh in the championship. He won four races last year. At 32 years old, he could still have an extended Cup career and while Kurt Busch has been respectful this year in his first year for Chip Ganassi Racing would you rather have had Busch for maybe three or four years tops or had Allgaier for close to a decade? I think Allgaier has proven he has that ability to be a competent race car and what does Chip Ganassi always say? "I like winners." Last I checked, Allgaier has won quite often meanwhile, Kyle Larson can't pull out a wind if his junk depended on it and Kurt Busch hasn't finished in the top five of the Cup championship since 2009.

Dover has been one of Allgaier's better tracks, having won there last year and having five top five finishes in his last six starts.

Sam Hornish, Jr.
What: Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Where: Phoenix
Why: Because Hornish, Jr. is too young to be retired. He is obviously comfortable with being on the sidelines. He doesn't want to pay for a full season. I am not sure he wants to run 38 weeks of racing. He doesn't have any interest in an IndyCar return even if just for the Indianapolis and he is fine with the occasional race in NASCAR's second division.

His Cup record might not be stellar but Hornish improved from when he first got in a stock car to his later days in NASCAR and Phoenix was the location of his first Grand National Series victory in 2011. I am only putting him at the Wood Brothers because it is a halfway decent team and the Wood Brothers have had A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Bobby Rahal drive for them and that would add just another Indianapolis 500 winner to the list.

Elliott Sadler
What: Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Where: Bristol
Why: Because Sadler deserves a better send off and it should come full circle.

Sadler spent the final eight years of his career full-time in the Grand National Series and he probably should have spent most of that time in the Cup series. It is a shame that second break never came but he had a good career.

He last raced in the Cup series at 2017 with three starts driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing. He won his first race with the Wood Brothers at Bristol. What a better place to end it?

Juan Pablo Montoya
What: Team Penske Ford
Where: Indianapolis
Why: Montoya had a few brutal losses in the Brickyard 400 and we call that unfinished business.

He is the best driver of his generation. If there is any driver that could hope into the Brickyard 400, win it and not give a damn it is Montoya. It would have to be with Penske and it should be the least Penske should do considering he has not had any room for Montoya in the Indianapolis 500. He could make some room for him at the Brickyard.

Jeremy Mayfield
What: StarCom Racing Chevrolet
Where: Kentucky
Why: Because I needed one that would stir the pot.

Mayfield has been out of NASCAR for ten years. He wouldn't get a top team to take a chance on him and nor should a team but if Stanton Barrett can return to competition out of nowhere I think Mayfield could hold his own in a StarCom car and run multiple laps down without being a hazard to other competitors. He would get to race in his home state, something he never got to do in his Cup career and it would be something fun for fans to keep an eye on. He wouldn't be competing for a victory but he would be out there.

It is a little harder to do NASCAR at least when it comes to the comeback category but I would not rule out doing this again. It just might be a while.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Who, What, Where, Why? IndyCar Part I

I am going to try something different this week as we are in the middle of an IndyCar break and the goal is just to have some fun and be imaginative.

There are a lot of drivers out in the world of motorsports and some get around and drive many different series. Others land in one series and make a career out of it. There is always a wonder about how a driver would do elsewhere, in a different environment, in a different specification of race car and against different competition.

IndyCar is one of those series where we want great drivers to fill the series and IndyCar already has a lot of them. There are a lot more drivers we would love to see give IndyCar a try but we have to be realistic and know not every driver can get a shot at IndyCar full-time. A lot of drivers will not get any shot at IndyCar period.

That doesn't mean we can't have some fun. I was thinking of some of these drivers who have never raced in IndyCar and all the drivers who have only made a handful of IndyCar starts came to mind. Of course, not everyone who gets a few season or two get a fair shake and there are even those who we just want to see make a comeback.

What is this? This will look at 18 drivers, six that have never raced in IndyCar, six that have only made a handful of IndyCar starts and six that have at least one full season of IndyCar but we would like to see return to the series. This will pair each driver with one team at one race and each track on the schedule is represented. Not all teams are represented because A.J. Foyt Racing is awful and it would not be fair to any driver to make one IndyCar start and it be with A.J. Foyt Racing.

This isn't going to be some high-minded list full of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Jimmie Johnson. This isn't going to look at drivers who are still hanging around IndyCar. This isn't going to be more promotion of Conor Daly, J.R. Hildebrand, Oriol Servià and Sage Karam because they are still around. We talk about them enough. This list is going to be a little more diverse. We will start with the drivers who have never made an IndyCar start.

Pipo Derani
What: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Where: Belle Isle
Why: Derani is the real reason this whole exercise exists. This dates back to Sebring where Derani won the race for a third time in four years and once again we find ourselves wondering what else this kid will do. There doesn't seem to be a limit to his talent and he has tested an IndyCar, more specifically a Schmidt Peterson Honda. That test was a few years ago now and since that test all he has done is win with Extreme Speed Motorsports and Nissan, win now with Action Express Racing and Cadillac and had other sports car opportunities in GTE with the Ford GT program and Ferrari.

Most drivers I would not want a driver making an IndyCar debut at a street course let alone Belle Isle but if there is one driver that could do it Derani is the guy. Sebring is rough and taxing on a driver and it hasn't broken Derani. If he was going to get one shot at IndyCar, I think he would really turn heads at Belle Isle.

Jean-Karl Vernay
What: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Where: Barber
Why: Of all the Indy Lights champions since the official formation of the Road to Indy system, Jean-Karl Vernay is the only one that has never made an IndyCar start. He goes by J.K. Vernay now and he has made a career for himself in touring cars, winning the 2017 TCR International Series championship and he is still a competitor in the World Touring Car Cup. Before that, he was a part of the 2013 GTE-Am winning team in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Vernay has had plenty of success but since he won the 2010 Indy Lights title, he has only two starts in single-seater racing, both in 2011 at Spa-Francorchamps in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series.

I want to see Vernay get his chance. If Ben Hanley can return to single-seater racing after nine years away, why couldn't Vernay get his one shot, like Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams? He won the title with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and it would come full circle even if it was for only one race.

Naoki Yamamoto
What: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Where: Road America
Why: I have been promoting Yamamoto quite a bit lately and I think for good reason. He is a talented driver in Japan and when the likes of Jenson Button are promoting your talent you must be good. I don't think Formula One will be in his future but I think Yamamoto could be prime for IndyCar.

IndyCar is going to need a Japanese driver when Takuma Sato retires. Honda is going to put a Japanese driver on the grid and IndyCar should want the best Japanese driver out there and right now Yamamoto makes a pretty good case for that honor.

What better place to give him his first taste of IndyCar at Road America, a fast circuit similar to Suzuka where Yamamoto has been very successful, with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and have him work with Sato?

Sam Bird
What: Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda
Where: Toronto
Why: This is a two-parter and you will want to read the one below but there was a time when Sam Bird seemed to be one of the best young drivers. Unfortunately for Bird he became a Mercedes test driver in 2014 at the start of the Mercedes dominance and neither Lewis Hamilton nor Nico Rosberg were going anywhere. Bird has made a great career in sports car racing and he has been one of the best drivers in Formula E since its inception.

I think he would be great in IndyCar and with the abundance of street courses he runs in Formula E, Toronto should be up his alley.

Robin Frijns
What: Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda
Where: Toronto
Why: Because Frijns has been quick in every single-seater series has joined but the best he could do was test driver for Sauber and Caterham, which doesn't take much. They will give you whatever title you want for a couple thousand dollars.

Frijns and Bird are Virgin Racing teammates in Formula E and I think this would be a fun competition between the two drivers. They both race together in Formula E, they both do a lot sports car racing with Bird in GTE with the Ferrari program and Frijns with Audi's GT3 efforts, why not pit both of them against one another in an IndyCar with the same team at the same track? Add to it Harding Steinbrenner Racing and have those two go against a 19-year-old Colton Herta and it will be run to see where everyone stacks up.

Kyle Busch
What: Andretti Autosport Honda
Where: Iowa
Why: Ok, you got to have one slam dunk and this is it. Kyle Busch is the best driver in NASCAR right now. Busch has been the best driver for probably the best five years and he is only going to stick around for another 10-15 years. He is the next Indianapolis 500 one-off wet dream but I am sending him to Iowa instead.

One, Indianapolis is not that hard. Four corners, four straightaways, just hold your foot down, piece of cake. Two, every NASCAR says they want to do Indianapolis. I get it but there is more to IndyCar than Indianapolis and Indianapolis is where the glory is but I think these drivers would get as much of a challenge from some of the other ovals.

Iowa is rough and we see high levels of tire degradation in IndyCar at that track. Busch is used to tire degradation in NASCAR and times falling off. He is great at finding speed at the end of stints and I want to see what he could do in a similar scenario to what he is used to in NASCAR but in an IndyCar. Andretti Autosport has the most Iowa victories amongst IndyCar teams, meaning Busch would be in good hands and having him drive a Honda would peeve Toyota and I can live with that.

Let's move onto the drivers with some IndyCar experience but not an abundance of experience.

Richard Antinucci
What: Dale Coyne Racing Mid-Ohio
Where: Mid-Ohio
Why: You may be scratching your head on this one but hear me out. Antinucci's IndyCar career consists of five starts in the 2009 season with 3G Racing after the Stanton Barrett experiment (remember that?) crashed (mind the pun) out. Although Barrett was not suited for IndyCar, 3G Racing was an underfunded and lacked many resources. Think Harding Racing from last year but with less.

Antinucci's IndyCar results leave little to be desired with a 19th at Watkins Glen, two retirements in Canada due to mechanical issues, 18th at Mid-Ohio and 15th at Sonoma but his career before IndyCar suggests more might be there. He was fourth in the 2003 British Formula Three Championship behind Alan van der Merwe, Jamie Green and Nelson Piquet, Jr. The following year he went to Japan and finished fourth in the Japanese Formula Three Championship ahead of the likes of Kazuki Nakajima, Sakon Yamamoto and Hideki Mutoh. He only ran eight races in the Formula 3 Euro Series in 2005 but he returned to the series in 2006 in a one-car team, HBR Motorsport, and he finished fifth in that championship behind Paul di Resta, Sebastian Vettel, Kohei Hirate and Esteban Guerrieri with two victories and he finished ahead of the likes of Giedo van der Garde, Nakajima, Kamui Kobayashi, Jonathan Summerton, Charlie Kimball, Sébastien Buemi and Romain Grosjean.

After his exploits internationally, Antinucci moved to Indy Lights. He only ran the road/street course races in 2007 and won at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. He went full-time with Sam Schmidt Racing in 2008 and he won twice again at St. Petersburg and Watkins Glen but also had eight podium finishes in 16 starts including runner-up finishes at Homestead and Indianapolis on his way to finishing second in the championship to Raphael Matos by 32 points.

I am not saying Antinucci had talent to be in Formula One or an LMP1 factory driver but I think he could have been competent in an IndyCar. He wouldn't get an opportunity with a big team but Dale Coyne Racing has a history of giving a guy a chance and sometimes of nowhere. It would be nice to see a guy get a shot and at a track he has been successful.

Wade Cunningham
What: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Where: Pocono
Why: Cunningham was probably the best Indy Lights driver for the 2000s but despite winning the championship as a rookie in 2005, three other top five championship finishes, eight victories in his career and three Freedom 100 victories.

These results only resulted in five IndyCar starts, three in 2011 with Sam Schmidt's team and two in 2012 with A.J. Foyt Racing. He qualified eighth on debut at Texas but was caught in an accident with Charlie Kimball in that race. He returned to the track at Kentucky in October and worked his way into the top ten. An electrical issue ended his only Indianapolis 500 start after 42 laps and he was a late substitute for Mike Conway at Fontana after Conway stepped away from oval racing. He would complete 246 of 250 laps and finished 14th.

Six of his eight Indy Lights victories came on ovals and with his success at Indianapolis I think Pocono would be a suitable place for a return and with his experience with Schmidt, it would make sense if he returned with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

André Lotterer
What: Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Where: Austin
Why: Because Lotterer has been one of the best drivers over the last decade and before all that he made one IndyCar start in the 2002 CART season finale at Mexico City with Dale Coyne Racing. He scored a point with a 12th place finish.

Since his one start with Dale Coyne Racing, Lotterer has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times, he won the World Endurance Drivers' Championship, a Super Formula championship, two Super GT championships and he has done well in Formula E.

Why not reunite 17 years later? Get Lotterer and Coyne back together, it would pair him with Sébastien Bourdais and Austin is a track Lotterer has won at previously. He made one start in Formula One, the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix and his car only completed a lap. I would think it would be great for him to come back to IndyCar all these years later.

Matthew Brabham
What: Andretti Autosport Honda
Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course
Why: It is kind of surprising Brabham's career took the turn it did. Brabham won the U.S. F2000 championship and the following year he had a historic year on his way to winning the Pro Mazda championship. His one full year in Indy Lights was encouraging with a fourth-place championship finish but he was only able to make three starts in 2015.

Brabham made two IndyCar starts in 2016 in a partnership between Team Murray and KV Racing, both at Indianapolis. The road course race went well and he finished on the lead lap after spending the race solidly in the middle of the field. He completed 199 laps on his Indianapolis 500 debut and finished 22nd.

Brabham has found a great career in Stadium Super Trucks but he is 25 years old and he has the talent for IndyCar. His Road to Indy success came with Andretti Autosport and put him in one of those cars on a billiard table smooth road course and I think he would really have a spectacular outing.

Martin Plowman
What: McLaren Chevrolet
Where: Laguna Seca
Why: Plowman may not have had the same level of Indy Lights results as Antinucci and Cunningham but Plowman was respectable, won a race and finished third in the 2010 championship behind Vernay and James Hinchcliffe and ahead of Charlie Kimball and Pippa Mann. He made three starts in 2011 when races were a dime a dozen in the final year of the IR07 chassis. He ran at Mid-Ohio, Sonoma and Baltimore with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in conjunction with AFS Racing and he had two near top ten finishes with a 12th at Sonoma and 11th at Baltimore.

After 2011, Plowman moved to sports cars and after a year in the American Le Mans Seres, he moved to the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2013 where he won his class at Le Mans with Bertrand Baguette and Ricardo González. Those three went on to win the LMP2 championship that year. He made a return to IndyCar in 2014 with A.J. Foyt Racing at both Indianapolis races but neither were particularly outings.

Plowman's career moved back to sports cars and he ran a year in the Blancpain Sprint Series but has been mostly in the British GT Championship's GT4 class. It is one of those careers where unfortunately opportunities dried up but the driver is better than that.

Adam Carroll
What: Carlin Chevrolet
Where: Barber
Why: Carroll had a fling in IndyCar in 2010 with two starts at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio with Andretti Autosport. Before that, he was a race winner in the GP2 Series and was the A1GP champion. Like Plowman, the single-seater opportunities were not there. He went to sports cars and won in the European Le Mans Series' GTE class and British GT Championship. He got a shot in a FIA WEC GTE-Am lineup. He did get a shot with Jaguar in its inaugural Formula E season but it was a one-and-done year for Carroll and he was replaced.

It would be nice to see Carroll get another shot and it would be nice to see him on a flowing road course such as Barber. Carlin might not be the team you would think for Carroll, a 36-year-old driver looking for a one-off but I had to mix it up and Carlin has done well this year with Patricio O'Ward.

Who should make a comeback?

Rubens Barrichello
What: Team Penske Chevrolet
Where: Texas
Why: Rubinho was only in IndyCar for one year and it is sad he didn't comeback for a second season. He didn't dominate but he came in and had good days while learning a bunch of new tracks. I would have loved to see what Barrichello could have done in a second season, especially after his teammate Tony Kanaan won the Indianapolis 500 the following year.

Why Texas? Because it was the one that got away. He didn't get to start at Texas because his car failed on the grid. Why Team Penske? Because Team Penske has the room, just dust off that fourth car Hélio Castroneves uses and it would be cool if the team ran an extra car. It would give Barrichello a great opportunity for victory.

Simona de Silvestro
What: Andretti Autosport Honda
Where: Long Beach
Why: De Silvestro is still a fan favorite around IndyCar circles and it is approaching four years since her last IndyCar start in the Indianapolis 500. She has moved on and has run some Formula E and Supercars in the years since but there is a bit of wondering over what her career would look like had the temptation of being a Sauber reserve driver never came.

It would be great if she was full-time but her best results were on road and street courses and if she was going to run a one-off, why not return to the track of her inaugural Atlantics Championship victory and with the best team she ever drove for? Imagine what she could do with an Andretti Autosport car at Long Beach. We just saw Alexander Rossi dominate the race and Ryan Hunter-Reay running at the front of the field. It would be great to see if she could make the second round of qualifying.

Alex Lloyd
What: Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Where: St. Petersburg
Why: Alex Lloyd didn't catch a break in his IndyCar career. The worst move may have been becoming a development driver for Chip Ganassi Racing. Name one Ganassi development driver in IndyCar or the ladder system that panned out? He never drove a race for Ganassi. He made his IndyCar debut in an entry that was a partnership between Ganassi and Rahal Letterman Racing at the 2008 Indianapolis 500 but that may have been the best car he drove in his IndyCar career.

His one full season was with Dale Coyne Racing because Dale Coyne Racing became what it is today. It is still a small team but it was much further behind the top teams in 2010 and Lloyd still managed to finish fourth in the Indianapolis 500 that year. He split a car with Sébastien Bourdais in 2011, running the ovals while the Frenchman took the road and street courses. The IndyCar opportunities vanished after that and he moved onto sports cars in the years after that but he has moved onto a new life.

In a perfect world, Lloyd would get his shot with Ganassi and let's do it at St. Petersburg, where he swept the Indy Lights weekend in 2007.

Bertrand Baguette
What: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Where: Portland
Why: Baguette is a really good driver and got some good results in Conquest Racing. He won the Formula Renault 3.5 Series championship but Formula One was never really in the picture. After his one year with Conquest Racing, he ran the 2011 Indianapolis 500 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and for five minutes it appeared the Belgian was going to pull off the most stunning upset and win the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. He made his final stop with three laps to go and J.R. Hildebrand inherited the top position. While we remember Hildebrand's accident and Dan Wheldon's victory, Baguette still finished seventh despite his late pit stop.

Since that day, Baguette moved to sports car and as mentioned in the Plowman section, he won at Le Mans in the LMP2 class and took the LMP2 title in the FIA WEC. He moved to Japan and has been in Super GT ever since 2014 and he won the final Suzuka 1000km.

I think Baguette should get another crack in an IndyCar and why not do it with a team he has a good history with and RLLR? Not to mention, RLLR won at Portland last year.

Robby Gordon
What: Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
Where: Indianapolis 500
Why: There is part of me that believes Robby Gordon has still got it. He has been out of the upper echelons of North American motorsports for quite some time but I think he could jump right in and find speed. We have seen Jacques Villeneuve return to Indianapolis and make the field. We have seen Jay Howard, who is not regularly competing in any major series, make the race and make it with comfort. I think Gordon could hope right in but he isn't jumping into a car that will be 28th.

We know Ed Carpenter Racing has pace and I think Gordon could get the most of it. I think he could push Spencer Pigot and be on the coattails of the boss, Ed Carpenter. I would love to see it.

Bruno Junqueira
What: Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Where: Indianapolis 500
Why: Because Junqueira has not been righted for what happened in 2011 and that needs to be fixed. Also, the man did eight practice laps in 2010 and qualified with the seven-fastest time. He has a history with Dale Coyne Racing, he has history with Sébastien Bourdais and we have seen the speed Dale Coyne Racing has at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Put Junqueira in one of those cars and I would not be surprised if won another Indianapolis 500 pole position.

This was fun and more of these will come in the future. Not just for IndyCar, but for other series as well.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: IndyCar's Three-Week Break

IndyCar team owners are twisting IndyCar's arm for guaranteed spots in the Indianapolis 500 for full-time entrants. Marcus Ericsson, Ben Hanley and Colton Herta got to test at Texas. Marco Andretti revealed this Indianapolis 500 livery, a replica of his grandfather Mario's 1969 winning car. NASCAR announced this year's rules for the All-Star race (they tinkered with the aero and added five laps, not really stuff to sweep us off our feet). Ford is pulling its factory support of the Ford GT program but privateer options are still on the table and Chip Ganassi is interested in remaining in sports car racing. Nick Cassidy won the Super Formula season opener from Suzuka from 12th on the grid after making his first pit stop before the first caution. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

IndyCar's Three-Week Break
Easter is kind of the final week of the offseason. It just so happens to come about a month after the season has started.

There is mo major motorsports on in the United States. It is a death sentence for any race that tries to make it work. People do not go out on Easter. It is not Thanksgiving where stadiums will be full for football games or Christmas where the NBA can have a half-dozen games fill from noon to midnight. Nothing draws on Easter. I am surprised Major League Baseball doesn't just give all the players the day instead of having 15 games in mostly empty stadiums.

NASCAR takes off. IndyCar takes off. IMSA is off. Supercross is off. The word of the day is off. There have been times when Formula One or MotoGP have run on the holiday but those are different animals, international series and most of the time when either run on Easter it is in a country where the holiday is not prominently celebrated, such as Bahrain or China. It is win-win for those series. The race can take place and not have to worry about a lack of spectators, the global audience gets a race including those in European countries celebrating the holiday and the only losers are the teams who have to spend the holiday on the road away from family. The loss of a few thousand people is countered balanced with the victory of a couple hundred million people.

The North American series can't roll those dice and in this case it is an off week for IndyCar. Unlike other years though next week will also be an off week for IndyCar and the week after that as well and IndyCar is staring into three consecutive weeks on the couch.

Three-week breaks are not new to IndyCar. The last two seasons had a three-week break between St. Petersburg and the second round of the season. It is simple as the three-week break moved back a month but it is not quite as easy as that. IndyCar wasn't trying to keep a spring break in place for the teams. Other factors led to this extended period off.

For starters, there was Easter, a traditional off week. In other years, Barber would be the final weekend of April but this year Talladega hosts NASCAR the final weekend of April. Instead of committing event suicide and going head-to-head IndyCar moved that race up to the start of the month ahead of Long Beach. The weekend after that is the start of May and the May schedule is kind of set with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Indianapolis 500 qualifying and the Indianapolis 500 for three consecutive weekends starting the day before Mother's Day and ending the day before Memorial Day.

It was kind of the perfect storm for April but is it something that can be avoided in years to come?

We covered some issues with the start of the 2020 schedule last month when looking at what NASCAR's schedule change means for IndyCar. Depending on when IndyCar's spring races fall, the three-week break should be avoided. St. Petersburg is penciled in for March 15th. It is a matter of figuring out when Austin falls depending on Sebring and whether or not Austin wants to go head-to-head with the NASCAR race at Texas on March 29th. Long Beach or Barber will likely be April 5th with other race taking placing April 19th. April 12th will be off for Easter. April 26th and May 3rd will be off and then the Grand Prix of Indianapolis kicks off the festivities from the Circle City on May 9th. No three-week break but I know enough people think two consecutive off weeks is one too many and will want another race squeezed between whatever takes place on April 19th and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Another race could fit but think about the schedule from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis onward. There might not be a race between that and the Indianapolis 500 but the teams are at the racetrack every single day from the first practice day on the racetrack through the 500-mile race. After that is a doubleheader at Belle Isle and the week after that is Texas. IndyCar is busy for five consecutive weeks. The teams do not need an extra race on May 3rd. The teams do not need the travel. The teams do not need extra nights working on a race car.

That leaves April 26th as the only option and it depends what falls on April 19th. If it is Long Beach, what are your western options? If it is Barber, the door is a little more open to adding race as there are more options in the region, whether it be the Southern United States or the Midwest.

The problem is there is no track floating out there that could fill a late-April date. We could speculate wildly about IndyCar going to Atlanta, Kentucky, Phoenix (even though IndyCar just did that in the same time slot and we saw how that worked out), Fontana (even though it would likely be a back-to-back with Long Beach and it would either hurt Long Beach or Long Beach would still be a smashing success and the following week, 45 minutes east IndyCar wouldn't be able to draw half the Sunday crowd) or Homestead but none of those are likely at the table.

I am sure some of you are thinking that is where IndyCar could squeeze a return trip to Motegi but that would be a nightmare. It was bad enough when teams had to go from Motegi to Kansas in back-to-back weeks. Though the series might already be on the West Coast, going from Long Beach to Motegi would be brutal, especially for teams that would have to turn cars around from street course to oval set ups and everyone would have fingers crossed for no crash damage because would trip into the barriers could mean an entire team isn't getting on that plane to Japan. 

If there was anything that could have been done this year is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis could have been moved up a week to May 4th and instead of having three weeks off it would have been two weeks off, the IMS road course race and a weekend off before practice began for the Indianapolis 500. There would have been logistical issues as the mini-marathon takes place May 4th but I think string could have been pulled to swap weekend just for this year. Moving the race up would of course dulled the celebratory opening of the track for the month with a good ten days between on-track action instead of the current two days but if it was a one-year thing I think everyone would have been ok.

The three-week break likely isn't a bad thing for IndyCar. I know people fear being out of sight and out mind but maybe IndyCar has the best schedule on the planet and I do mean the best schedule in terms of racetracks but the best schedule in that it isn't too much and it leaves us waiting more every time the champion in crowded.

A lot of people want IndyCar to have more races and I am in that that boat but I also think the 17-race schedule is working for IndyCar. There is little fatigue come September. It is annoying that there is nearly six months between the last race of one year and the first race of the next but it is not annoying in the "IndyCar is doing a bad job and is being moronic" kind of way, it is annoying in the "I am going to miss it and it is a long time until it is coming back" kind of way.

It would be nice to have another two or three races but maybe IndyCar doesn't need an extra race in this time period and maybe these weeks off are what fans need even if fans do not want them. We need separation for it will only make the month of May feel even better. We see a lot of series squeezing races into every possible weekend and we get conscious that IndyCar isn't doing that. We think IndyCar is doing something wrong but the truth is IndyCar is sticking to what it knows it can do best. It knows it cannot stretch itself. It knows the limits of the teams. The current schedule works and we get to look forward to Indianapolis instead of having another race or two in the way and then having Indianapolis appear on us while gassed from other action.

We get to rest and prepare for what is an IndyCar fan's favorite time of the year. It might not be what we want but it just might be what we need. 

Winner From the Weekend
You know about Nick Cassidy but did you know...

Josh Elliott and Tarran MacKenzie split the British Superbike opening round from Silverstone.

British GT opens its season today with a doubleheader at Oulton Park.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One is back in Baku.
NASCAR goes to Talladega.
Formula E will be in Paris. 
Blancpain GT World Challenge America has a round at Virginia International Raceway. 
World Rally has Rally Argentina.
Supercross has its penultimate round in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
World Touring Car Cup will be at the Hungaroring.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Bumping Debate 2019

I am really fucking tired writing about this and we will cut to the chase:

Roger Penske said he wants guaranteed spots in the Indianapolis 500 for full-time teams. Chip Ganassi seconded it and Michael Andretti agreed. IndyCar's axis powers in this debate.

A lot of people do not want this as they fear what could be the Indianapolis 500 fading into the background and blending in with all the other races around the world.

I get why Penske, Ganassi and Andretti want guaranteed spots. I really do get it. They want the money. They want the security. If anything, these three should be pleading that the Indianapolis 500 field should be reduced to 24 cars and the money that would have gone to the extra nine entries should be divvied up that way they get more money. That is the name of the game to them. They got to make money and the more they can make the happier those three will be.

The problem is this would be terrible. We have seen many forms of motorsports shrink in terms of participation. We see guaranteed spots in nearly every series. IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula One, sports car racing, etc. Every other race in the IndyCar season locks in the field. The Indianapolis 500 is the one race with no safety net. No one is locked in. No one knows where he or she will be on race day. No number of champions, race victories or Twitter followers can put you in the field. It is a last bastion of sorts in motorsports, one of the final races where participation comes down to whether you can put up one of the 33 fastest times or not.

The hard limit of 33 cars and bumping is part of why the Indianapolis 500 stands out. It makes it different. It adds to the entire event. Removing it brings the Indianapolis 500 back to the pack. It becomes closer to Iowa, Toronto and Belle Isle. It becomes another event of sorts.

The owners know what they are saying. They want security. They want to be able to guarantee sponsors the bang for the buck and they also know the Indianapolis 500 probably would not change that much without bumping. We haven't had bumping on a regular basis for the better part of two decades. People still showed up to the race. The 100th Indianapolis 500 didn't have any bumping and it still drew a "sold out" crowd. Locking in cars won't fucking matter over whether people show up or not. Some people will die on that hill but most won't give a fuck. They will still show up on race day and they will still watch on TV. The bottom will not fall out on the rating come race day.

However, the series has the team owners' by the balls.

What are the team owners going to do if IndyCar doesn't lock in cars? Leave? They have nowhere to go. As fucking hypocritical as they are in becoming proponents to locking in cars after what happened almost 25 years ago, they aren't going to start another series. They aren't that fucking stupid. They did the alternative in 1996 and it didn't work out. As fucking dumb as they may be now they cannot be that stupid to decide to organize a rival Memorial Day race against the Indianapolis 500 again!

Advantage IndyCar.

I don't know what will happen if Penske doesn't get his guaranteed positions in 2020 or 2021 but I don't think he is going anywhere.

I get why these big three team owners are scared about failing to make the race. They have invested a lot and losing a sponsor would be terrible but we know bumping isn't necessarily a fatal blow. James Hinchcliffe failed to make last year's race and Arrow DOUBLED-DOWN and INCREASED its sponsorship in Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Bobby Rahal failed to make the race in 1993 and Miller Genuine Draft was still on the car in 1994. Paul Tracy failed to make the race in 2010 and Geico stuck around with KV Racing for a few years and even came back two years ago with Dale Coyne Racing and James Davison.

There have been sponsors that left because a car did not make the Indianapolis 500. There have also been sponsors that left cars that just won the championship

***Cough*** Scott Dixon ***cough*** How do explain that Chip? ***cough*** Kind of a weak argument that you are worried about losing a sponsor over not being guaranteed spot in the Indianapolis 500 when you couldn't keep a sponsor after winning a championship that fucking season? ***cough*** Asshole. ***cough***

Excuse me. Apologies for the coughing fit.

Penske, Ganassi and Andretti want to be guaranteed a slice of the pie but the one thing IndyCar needs to value is competition. Bumping is another form of competition. It turns a procedural affair into an agonizing few hours where you watch a handful of people scramble to keep a dream alive. Some will make it and you get to see the relief. Others will not and you have to watch the emotional contemplation of the worst day of their lives. That is sport. That is beautiful. That is why people watch. People watch to see joy. They watch to see hearts break. It is life played out on the racetrack.

IndyCar needs bumping. It needs that day that makes everyone nervous and that includes the axis power of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. Other sports have uncertainty, even for the big names. LeBron James is the most popular basketball player in the world. He didn't make the NBA playoffs. The NBA didn't give the Los Angeles Lakers the eighth-seed in the Western Conference over the Los Angeles Clippers just because it would get better ratings with LeBron James. Connor McDavid is arguably the best player in the NHL. He didn't make the Stanley Cup playoffs. The NHL didn't put the Edmonton Oilers in over the Colorado Avalanche just because it would be better to have McDavid on the ice. Mike Trout is arguably the best player in baseball and he has only made the playoffs once in his eight years in Major League Baseball.

IndyCar should not want IndyCar to be different at least when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. Last year's Indianapolis 500 will be remembered more because of who wasn't there. Last year, James Hinchcliffe missed the race but Graham Rahal was also in the battle to make the field. Conor Daly pulled it out. James Davison had the qualifying run of a lifetime. Every time there is bumping there is an unexpected name in the mix, one that most had penciled in and that is why people watch. We are waiting to be surprised and IndyCar needs that. IndyCar is doing the right thing if people tune in because they genuinely do not know what is going to happen. Guaranteeing spots in the Indianapolis 500 takes away one of the things playing into IndyCar's hand.

This debate isn't going anywhere. It is going to play out throughout this month of May and maybe if the cars in the bumping battle this year are inconsequential one-off entries then we will hear less from the axis car owners come 2020. If a full-time driver is in the mix on bump day then IndyCar's three-headed dragon will keep chirping.

My hope is IndyCar squeezes a little bit because they hold the power in this scenario. It can't fold. It needs to keep the standard of what the Indianapolis 500 is and the team owners know what they are getting into each May.

The team owners are looking out for their business interests but there comes a point when the team owners have to step back and look at the greater good and realize taking the risk out of the Indianapolis 500 could be bad for business, reducing the chance of the unexpected and turning it into just another race.

2019 Super Formula Preview

With Easter coming up there is not a lot on the motorsports schedule. One thing that is happening is the Super Formula season opens and the series is not a highly covered series internationally but I think it is an important series to keep an eye on.

Over the last few years the series has evolved. The series has become an alternate route or a gap-year for the top Formula One prospects. The series still has plenty of domestically developed drivers but the grid is getting younger. The average age of the 2019 field is 25.85 years old. For comparison, the average age of the Formula One grid is 26.75 years old and the average age of the IndyCar entries that plan on contesting at least ten races or more is 29.6956 years old.

Not all these Super Formula drivers are going to remain in Super Formula or Super GT. Some of these drivers will have careers outside of Japan and that is not including the Formula One hopefuls. Some of these drivers may even end up in the top echelons of sports car racing or even head to IndyCar.

On top of the young grid with names that will be around for years to come, Super Formula has adopted a new chassis with the Dallara SF19 being introduced, replacing the Dallara SF14. This will be the first Super Formula chassis to include a halo.

All of these reasons are why we should keep an eye on Super Formula in 2019 and this preview will go over the schedule and all entries. We will go over what are the teams, who are driving for those teams, what these drivers have accomplished and a look at what the future for these drivers could be.

The schedule is simple, seven rounds at six tracks with one round for each of the next seven months.

The season begins this weekend at Suzuka on April 21st. Autopolis will hold the second round on May 19th. Last year's Autopolis round was cancelled due to weather conditions. The third round will be at Sportsland SUGO on June 23rd. Super Formula will head to Toyota's Fuji Speedway on July 14th, the middle round of the championship.

On August 18th, Super Formula goes to Twin Ring Motegi and Okayama will host the penultimate round on September 29th. The final round will be at Suzuka on October 27th.


DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing
Naoki Yamamoto: #1 DoCoMo Dandelion M1S SF19-Honda
What has Yamamoto done: Yamamoto is coming off a double championship season, taking the Super Formula and Super GT GT500 titles and becoming only the fourth driver to achieve such an accomplishment. Prior to 2018, Yamamoto won the 2013 Super Formula title and he won the 2013 Suzuka 1000.
What could be in his future: Yamamoto's GT500 co-driver Jenson Button said Yamamoto is worthy of Formula One and with Honda powering two teams in Formula One. It would not be crazy to think within two or three years he could get a shot with Toro Rosso. Yamamoto also enters this season at 30 years old and unless Honda really pushes the envelope I do not see him getting that shot. However, could IndyCar be in his cards? He is 30. Takuma Sato is 42 and is winning races. Sato made his IndyCar when he was 32 years old. DoCoMo is the sponsor of Team Dandelion Racing and its parent company is NTT. Sato is not getting any younger and there is a history of Japanese drivers on the IndyCar grid. Could NTT grease some elbows and get Honda's best driver domestically in Japan to move to the United States? Yamamoto could spend 10-12 years in IndyCar if he moves over in the next few years but he very well could end up having a long and successful career in Japan. I think he will end up doing more outside his home nation.

As for this season, I think Yamamoto will put up a valiant title defense and he should win a race or two. If he does that he very well could win the championship but it will all come down to what happens in the remaining rounds.

Nirei Fukuzumi: #5 DoCoMo Dandelion M5Y SF19-Honda
What has Fukuzumi done: Fukuzumi spent the last three years in Europe, the first two years in the GP3 Series where he won two races and finished third in the championship in his second GP3 season. Last year, he ran the full Fomrula Two season and scored 17 points. He also ran four of seven Super Formula races but did not score a point.
What could be in his future: Similar to Yamamoto, I think Fukuzumi could end up in IndyCar. He was doing well in Europe and is coming back to Japan. He is 22 years old and he could be a long-term option for Honda in IndyCar.

Fukuzumi was competitive in testing and was not far off his teammate and in some cases he was quicker than Yamamoto. I think he will be a regular points scorer and end up on the podium a few times. Could he win a race? I wouldn't rule it out but it will not come easy.

Kondō Racing
Kenta Yamashita: #3 Orientalbio Kondo SF19-Toyota
What has Yamashita done: Yamashita twice finished runner-up in the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship before he won the title in 2016. In 2015 and 2017 he ran full-time in Super GT's GT300 class and won a race in Autopolis. In 2017, he joined Super Formula and won pole position at Motegi. He contested full seasons in both Super GT and Super Fomrula last year and he finished third in the final race of the season, the first podium finish in his Super Formula career.
What could be in his future: Yamashita has been fairly successful but he has yet to have a major breakthrough. He is still a relatively new driver in Super GT and Super Formula. He is definitely down the pecking order when it comes to Toyota drivers but he was one of the top Toyota drivers during testing. He is coming off his best finish and Kondō Racing won the teams' championship last year. I think Yamashita could be pushing for the top five of the championship.

Yuji Kunimoto: #4 Orientalbio Kondo SF19-Toyota
What has Kunimoto done: Kunimoto won the 2016 Super Formula championship but he has only finished on the podium twice in the last two seasons, both third place results and in eight seasons, his championship season is the only seasons he won a race. He has spent the last ten seasons in Super GT with two victories in GT500, his most recent victory at Buriram in 2016. In 2017, he made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the third Toyota TS050 Hybrid that retired after 160 laps.
What could be in his future: Kunimoto could be that next Toyota driver to make a move into the LMP1 program. He has the experience and depending on whether or not Fernando Alonso comes back for the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship Kunimoto could be the driver to fill that opening.

Kunimoto was not far off his teammate in testing and I think this season can be marginally better than his last two in Super Formula.

Artem Markelov: #7 UOMO SUNOCO SF19-Toyota
What has Markelov done: Markelov spent the last five seasons in GP2/Formula Two, all driving for Russian Time, where he won nine races and was vice-champion in 2017 and he was fifth in the championship last year. He participated in first practice of last year's Russian Grand Prix for Renault.
What could be in his future: Markelov was at the bottom of the timesheet for most of testing and I think he will struggle. I am not sure where Markelov's career goes from here. The Formula One route didn't work out. Could he end up like most Russian drivers and in the SMP Racing program? Yeah, probably.

Kazuya Oshima: #8 UOMO SUNOCO SF19-Toyota
What has Oshima done: Oshima has spent the last 13 seasons competing in Super GT and he won the 2007 GT300 championship, was 2016 GT500 vice-champion and he finished third in the championship in 2017. He has spent seven seasons in Super Formula split from 2009-12 and 2015-18. His only Super Formula victory was at Sportsland SUGO in 2010. He has not won in Super GT since the 2013 finale at Motegi.
What could be in his future: Oshima is kind of set with a career in Japan. Nothing wrong with that and for this year I think he will be ahead of Markelov most of the year but points scoring will be rare.

Team Mugen
Daniel Ticktum: #15 Team Mugen SF19-Honda
What has Ticktum done: In 2015, he intentionally caused an accident behind the safety car in MSA Formula and received a two-year ban from motorsports with one year being a suspended ban. Since returning, he has won the Macau Grand Prix the last two years and he was vice-champion in FIA Formula 3 European Championship last year to Mick Schumacher and he made a handful of starts in GP3 and Formula Two. He made two starts in Super Formula last year filling in for Fukuzumi when he had a Formula Two conflict.
What could be in his future: Ticktum is on the Red Bull Formula One path, which could be great or it could ruin his career before he is 22 years old. He turns 20 in June for perspective. Red Bull wanted him in Toro Rosso this year but he didn't have enough Super License points and the team had to settle with Daniil Kvyat. Team Mugen won the title last year with Yamamoto but Yamamoto left the team over his dissatisfaction over the team's results. Yamamoto carried the load for this team and was the only driver to score points. I think Ticktum only gets a handful of points and again will fall short of the Super License points desired. He needs five points meaning he needs to finish fifth in the championship this year. Unless Team Mugen has a massive turnaround I do not see that happening.

Tomoki Nojiri: #16 Team Mugen SF19-Honda
What has Nbjiri done: Nojiri won in his seventh Super Formula start back in 2014. Since then, he has four podium finishes in the last four seasons, all third place finishes. Nojiri has also spent the last five seasons in Super GT and he was third in the GT500 championship last year with victories at Suzuka and Motegi.
What could be in his future: Nojiri was apart of the Team Dandelion Racing-Team Mugen team swap.  I think he will finish ahead of Ticktum in the championship. I think he has settled into a good spot in Honda's Japanese programs.

Real Racing
Tristan Charpentier: #17 Real SF19-Honda
What has Charpentier done: Charpentier was fifth in the 2016 French F4 Championship with six podium finishes, including a victory at the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans. He moved to the BRDC British Formula Three Championship in 2017 making five starts and he made 13 starts in the series last year. He had a runner-up finish at Oulton Park and finished third at Spa-Francorchamps.
What could be in his future: I am not sure. Charpenter is the most inexperience driver on the grid and he was at the bottom of each test session. It would be a surprise if he scored points this season. Worst case scenario is he will be an LMP3 driver or LMP2 driver in the European Le Mans Series in the next few years.

carrozzeria Team KCMG
Kamui Kobayashi: #18 KCMG Elyse SF19-Toyota
What has Kobayashi done: After a successful career in Europe with victories in GP2, Kobayashi spent four years in Formula One with his best finish being third in the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix with Sauber. He has spent the last four seasons in Super Formula but has yet to win a victory with three runner-up finishes. He ran his first full season in Super GT last year and won at Buriram. He has spent the last three seasons in Toyota's LMP1 program and he has three victories including two in this current season where he is currently second in the championship.
What could be in his future: Kobayashi is set. He is a Toyota LMP1 driver. He is set. It is surprising he has yet to win a race in this series after four seasons. If it is going to happen it should happen in year five.

Itochu Enex Team Impul
Yuhi Sekiguchi: #19 Itochu Enex Team Impul SF19-Toyota
What has Sekiguchi done: Sekiguchi has spent 11 seasons in Super GT and while he has four victories he has never finished better than fourth in the championship. He has only spent three seasons in Super Formula but he has won four races and he has finished third, fourth and fourth in the championship in those respective seasons.
What could be in his future: Sekiguchi has been on the fringe of championship contention for the last few seasons but this year could be a step back and part of the reason comes in from within the team. He could finish in the top five of the championship.

Ryō Hirakawa: #20 Itochu Enex Team Impul SF19-Toyota
What has Hirakawa done: This will be his fifth season in Super Formula. Last year, he returned after two years focusing on sports cars. In five Super GT seasons, he has five victories and he was 2017 GT500 championship. In 2016 and 2017, he ran in the European Le Mans Series with Thiriet by TDS Racing and G-Drive Racing and he scored three victories in those two seasons as well as making starts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans each season. He also tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sonoma in 2012.
What could be in his future: Hirakawa seems to be a rising star. He finished one point behind Sekiguchi in the championship last year. I think he will get his first career victory this season and be the top Team Impul driver. Like Kunimoto I think Hirakawa is another driver who could factor into the Toyota LMP1 program. Even if he doesn't, I think Hirakawa could be in sports cars. Looking back on that IndyCar test nearly seven years ago, he went on to win the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship and Porsche Carrera Cup Japan that year. It could have been a case of Dale Coyne finding a diamond in a rough and Coyne keeps drivers in his contacts. Who knows, once the Sébastien Bourdais-era ends Coyne might be making a call.

Vantelin Team TOM's
Kazuki Nakajima: #36 Vantelin Kowa TOM's SF19-Toyota
What has Nakajima done: Let's cover Nakajima's exploits at a glance: Two seasons in Formula One with Williams. Two-time Super Formula champion and he has nine victories in eight seasons. He has spent seven seasons in Super GT but he has yet to win a championship despite seven victories in his career. He has been in the Toyota LMP1 program since it began in 2012. He has won ten FIA World Endurance Championship races, including the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans and he leads this season's championship with two races remaining.
What could be in his future: Nakajima is set. He is the staple of the Toyota LMP1 program. He has only won one race in the last three seasons. I think he will be a championship contender and I think it is because of his new teammate, Nick Cassidy.

Nick Cassidy: #37 Vantelin Kowa TOM's SF19-Toyota
What has Cassidy done: This will be Cassidy's third year in Super Formula and last year he lost the title by one-point to Yamamoto. He won the 2017 Super GT GT500 title but lost last year's title to Yamamoto and Jenson Button by three points. Prior to this, he won the Toyota Racing Series championship twice and he was the 2015 All-Japan Formula 3 champion. He made his 24 Hours of Daytona this year with the Lexus GTD program.
What could be in his future: Cassidy is something special and I think Toyota has eyes on him. He was unfortunate roles were not reversed between him and Yamamoto. He led the Super Formula championship entering the final round and was one point behind Yamamoto and Button in GT500 entering the final race. He has to be on Toyota's radar for the LMP1 program. What else could he do? I don't see him being a full-time driver in the Lexus GTD program but if Lexus/Toyota decides to enter DPi, I wouldn't be surprised if he got a call.

JMS P.mu/cerumo INGING
Hiroaki Ishiura: #38 JMS P.mu/cerumo INGING SF19-Toyota
What has Ishiura done: Ishiura won the 2015 and 2017 Super Formula championships and he finished third in the championship last year with a victory at Motegi. He has spent 13 seasons in Super GT and won the 2007 GT300 championship. He has won seven Super GT races, including two victories in the Suzuka 1000.
What could be in his future: Ishiura has a career in Japan and I think he will be competitive but take a step back from third in the championship. He has won at least one race each of the last four seasons. That could end this year. I think the grid is really good.

Sho Tsuboi: #39 JMS P.mu/cerumo INGING SF19-Toyota
What has Tsuboi done: Tsuboi spent the last three years in the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship where he finished third in 2016, second in 2017 and he won the championship last year after winning 17 of 19 races with his other two results being second place finishes. In 55 All-Japan Formula 3 starts, Tsuboi won 20 races and had 44 podium finishes. He also won the 2015 F4 Japanese Championship.
What could be in his future: This is part of the reason why Ishiura will take a step back. Tsuboi was slightly faster than Ishiura in testing and he is coming in as a promising young driver. He has dominated the junior series in Japan. Despite his success, he is 23 years old. This isn't a teenager but he is still young and this is his first big step. He needs to get results and I think he will do well. I think he could finish on the podium.

B-MAX with Motopark
Lucas Auer: #50 Red Bull SF19-Honda
What has Auer done: After winning races in the FIA Formula 3 Euro Series, Auer spent the last four seasons in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters and he won four races in that time driving for Mercedes-Benz. He returned to single-seater racing for the first time in five years this winter in the Toyota Racing Series and he finished third in the championship.
What could be in his future: I am not sure. Auer is returning to single-seaters and it is a new set of tracks for him. I do not have high hopes for him. Maybe he scores a few points, which would be a big step up since B-MAX has not scored a point the last two seasons.

Harrison Newey: #51 Goldex Tairoku Racing SF19-Honda
What has Newey done: Newey spent 2016 and 2017 in the Formula 3 European Championship but transitioned to sports cars in the 2017-18 Asian Le Mans Series where he won the LMP2 championship with Jackie Chan DC Racing x Jota. He spent 2018 in the European Le Mans Series and in the most recent ALMS season he finished runner-up in the championship.
What could be in his future: Testing was promising. Newey was consistently 13th or 14th in testing. Maybe he gets a finish or two in the points but the bar is kept low.

TCS Nakajima Racing
Álex Palou: #64 TCS Nakajima Racing SF19-Honda
What has Palou done: Palou ran in the GP3 Series in 2015 and 2016 and he won a race at Yas Marina but in 2017 he moved to Japan and finished this in the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship. He also made four starts in Formula Two and scored points in both races from Jerez. He moved back to Europe and the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2018 where he had six podium finishes before finishing seventh in the championship.
What could be in his future: Palou has shown spurts of speed throughout his junior formula career. He took the old school path of leaving the European ladder system for a shot in Japan similar to Pedro de la Rosa, Ralf Schumacher and Michael Krumm. Nakajima Racing has not won a race since he 2010 season opener at Suzuka. Palou was quickest at the Suzuka test and was toward the top of the timesheet in the Fuji test. I think he will score points and maybe he could score a surprise podium finish or even victory.

Tadasuke Makino: #65 TCS Nakajima Racing SF19-Honda
What has Makino done: Makino was vice-champion in the 2015 F4 Japanese Championship to Tsuboi by three points. In 2016, he ran the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship and finished fifth and he also started the final three Super GT races and finished runner-up on debut in Buriram. He moved to Europe in 2017 and ran in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. He moved to Formula Two for 2018 with Russian Time and he won the Monza feature race but finished 13th in the championship.
What could be in his future: Makino was slower than his teammate in testing and I think Makino will score some points. As for the long-term, after years in Europe, he now has to establish who he is in Japan and has to build from here.

The season opening race will be at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday April 21st.