Friday, June 28, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: June 2019

It is starting to get hot outside isn't it? The summer heat leads to tightening championship races. Each lap has a little more tension. Drivers are trying to protect leads and others are clawing at deficits. Some are getting desperate.

June is entering its final days and we had a pair of 24-hour races from historic racetracks. Most series are in the middle of the campaign. We are approaching the point of when there are more races behind us than ahead of us. Summer does not seem so joyful knowing that fact. Of course, there will always be an abundance of headlines to skim.

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 start with IndyCar.

Why IndyCar chose Red Bull's aeroscreen for 2020
I am not sure it is so much IndyCar choosing what Red Bull was working on but the two parties working toward the same thing and leading to collaboration toward one work instead of two separate but very similar solutions.

All else I can say is this evolution or next generation of aeroscreen will be greatly welcome to the grid and it seems to have taken the best elements of the halo and the aeroscreen and combined the two to make what should be a great safety innovation that will protect drivers for many years to come.

Rossi says where he races in 2020 is "in God's hands"
That sure leaves an impression. It kind of ends the beating around the bush when it comes to the questioning. Once you bring God into the discussion it kind of gets hard to ask any more questions.

On to Formula One...

Verstappen questions logic of in-race F1 penalties
On the flip side, what is the logic of post-race penalties?

I am sure there are just as many people that would be pissed off if Sebastian Vettel was penalized five seconds after the checkered flag and I would guess more people would be upset to see Vettel take the checkered flag and then get a five-second penalty.

There are many different wants to administer penalties but there needs to be a timeliness to the penalties. If something happens on lap three, why wait for 90 minutes for it to be applied? All sports have in-competition penalties. There has to be the same in motorsports, regardless of the series. Not everything can be retroactively applied.

Hamilton: Blame rulemakers, not drivers for boring F1 races
He isn't wrong... drivers can only do so much with the car. Drivers could take more chances but if those chances are more likely to end in disaster than triumph than is it really on the drivers?

You could say the rule makers and the implementation of penalties is a reason for boring races but it is also the downforce, the tires, DRS and others are out of the hands of the drivers. They do not decide to have those. The FIA makes those decisions and then the drivers have to do the best they can.

Modern F1 drivers too fit for mistakes - Tost
He isn't wrong either... and fittest is a good thing. Every athlete is more fit than before. Every athlete is seeking another level and Formula One drivers are no different. I don't know what the solution is but everyone will say make the cars more difficult to drive, which is one solution, but we cannot make the races any longer. Formula One cannot make every grand prix a four-hour event. It is one of the consequences of a highly competitive nature of the series.

Jacques Villeneuve says young, talented drivers' dream of racing in F1 is about over
As long as Formula One teams are paying drivers $20 million a year the dream is always going to be Formula One.

No driver is dreaming of only making $1 million, if they are lucky, in IndyCar and then having to worry every year about having the funding to return to IndyCar.

Only Americans are dreaming of NASCAR and they can make a nice living without going abroad.

The one that makes sense is sports cars especially if it is with a manufacture because those gigs pay but you are not going to get the same mega-salary that you could get driving for Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull or McLaren.

The talented drivers are still going to be heading to the series with the most money. The Golden Goose is still laying eggs.

How about some sports car headlines?

INSIGHT: Hypercar Prototype gets rules, first cars... now what?
How perfect? The "now what?" phase. We wait and wait and eventually everyone will get angry when the next generation of regulations come up.

Now, we wait while Toyota and Aston Martin get to develop their machines and we wait and see if anyone else joins the fray.

INSIGHT: Can 'Success ballast' save LMP1?
I mean, LMP1 only has one season left so save? No.

Make the 2019-20 season a little more competitive? Probably not.

Also, does LMP1 need to be saved with the hypercar regulations coming in 2020-21? I think we are good with another Toyota pummeling in 2019-20 because we know change is on the horizon.

Now to a familiar name and face...

Trackside: Off-contract De Silvestro's unfinished business
I would argue it is in IndyCar. Simona de Silvestro has had a tough time in Supercars. The results are not spectacular and I think it goes to show how difficult that series can be but de Silvestro's IndyCar record is something to be proud of and suggest more is there.

I am not going to say de Silvestro was destined to be champion but for someone whose career is remembered for driving the oldest chassis on the grid and finishing fourth and being the one driver to run an entire season with the Lotus engine package, she got everything she could out of those entries and the one break she got with KV Racing was just a glimpse of her capabilities.

She may have only finished 13th in the championship in 2013 but she had a runner-up finish at Houston. She had nine top ten finishes from 19 races and she ended that season with five consecutive top ten finishes, including her first top ten finish on an oval, albeit three laps down but she kept the car running on a night when others were breaking down.

The problem is de Silvestro has been out of sight and out of mind. It has been four years since her last IndyCar start. It doesn't seem that long ago. I don't know who would give her a shot. It is nice she has been able to make a career in Australia but I am sure there are many people that would love for her to return to the United States.

Penske hints at wildcard Supercars entry
For the longest time I wanted Will Power and Simon Pagenaud together for the Bathurst 1000 but I would be open to Juan Pablo Montoya pairing with Power or Montoya and Dane Cameron carrying on their IMSA success to Australia.

The disappointing thing is Penske is open to a wildcard Supercars entry but how come we can't get Montoya, Power, Scott McLaughlin or Hélio Castroneves in more NASCAR races or Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney or Ricky Taylor trying out an IndyCar? Come on, Roger! Loosen up a bit.

We will close in the United States...

Greg Biffle adjusting to radically different NASCAR in Truck Series return
I got to admit I like the idea of taking a driver that has been out of a series for an extended period of time and putting them in a race. Biffle may have last raced a NASCAR Cup car in 2016 but he had not been in a Truck Series race since 2004.

I kind of want to see Sam Hornish, Jr. return to IndyCar not because we never got to see one of the best pre-unification never get to race in a united field but because he has been gone for 12 years and I would love to hear his feedback on the car. The closest thing we have had in recent years was A.J. Allmendinger when he did seven races for Team Penske in 2013 and when Jacques Villeneuve returned to the Indianapolis 500 in 2014, 19 years after his last start in that race.

I want to see Juan Pablo Montoya return to Formula One for a one-off. That is never going to happen but I would love to see it.

INTERVIEW: Kurt Busch on respect, results – and why he wants to race at Le Mans
Because everyone wants to race at Le Mans. Very few drivers say they don't want to race a race. Plus, Busch has been a full-time NASCAR driver and he has run the Indianapolis 500. Why not run Le Mans?

Although, he must be going with tempered expectations. He wouldn't get an LMP1 or hypercar shot. His best chance would be in a GTE entry and he might have to settle for being a professional driver in a GTE-Am lineup and if that were the offer on the table would he still want to go to Le Mans?

Summer is here, plenty of racing and headlines are ahead of us.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship Season Review

Not many seasons span more than 13 months but the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship was not most seasons as we all know. With the championship shifting from a Northern Hemisphere-centric spring-to-autumn to a split-year, autumn-to-spring calendar the season took over a year to complete and when looking back at a preview written nearly 14 months ago, there is a lot to be surprised about.

With Le Mans behind us, it is time to go over this extensive season and everything that went to plan or was completely out of the blue.

#1 Rebellion Racing R13-Gibson
Drivers: André Lotterer (Seven races), Neel Jani, Bruno Senna, Mathias Beche (Sebring)

What Did I Write: This car was second fastest of the non-Toyotas and only 0.010 seconds off the SMP Racing's BR Engineering BR1. I think this team will be on the podium frequently. It has brought together two past champions and added Senna, one of last year's Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers champions. This car might not be able to chase down the Toyota but it could be leading the rest of the pack.

How Wrong Was It: The #1 Rebellion was on the podium only twice, less than its sister car, which we will get to momentarily. Jani and Senna were fifth in the championship, between the two Toyotas, its sister car and the #11 SMP Racing BR1. Lotterer missed the Sebring round due to a simulator test for his Formula E team, the first WEC race he has missed.

#3 Rebellion Racing R13-Gibson
Drivers: Thomas Laurent, Mathias Beche (First five races), Gustavo Menezes, Nathanaël Berthon (Final three races)

What Did I Write: Laurent and Menezes have had tremendous success in LMP2 the last two seasons while Beche has been a loyal member of the Rebellion Racing following the team from LMP1 to LMP2 and back to LMP1 again. This car was not ready for the Prologue but all three drivers ran the Prologue in the #1 Rebellion R13. I think this is a big change for Laurent and Menezes and I think this team will have some growing pain.

How Wrong Was It: This was the best Rebellion and the best non-Toyota and it won at Silverstone after both Toyotas were disqualified. Laurent earned a promotion and is now Toyota's reserve driver. The #3 Rebellion had four podium finishes and it was third in the championship on 114 points, 84 points off the World Endurance Drivers' Champions.

#4 ByKolles Racing Team ENSO CLM P1/01-Nismo (First five races) / ENSO CLM P1/01-Gibson (Final two races)
Drivers: Oliver Webb (every race), Tom Dillmann (six races), Dominik Kraihamer (two races), René Binder (Silverstone), James Rossiter (Fuji and Shanghai), Paolo Ruberti (final two races)
What Did I Write: What was the only privateer LMP1 car for the last few years the CLM P1/01 appears to be developing into a reliable race car. However, it is behind two cars that have been developed from scratch in the last year. Dillmann ran the fastest lap in this car at the Prologue and was within a quarter second of the #17 SMP Racing BR1 Engineering BR1. The one thing this team might have over the other privateers is it has more experience with this car while all the others are still learning their respective machinery. ByKolles might get a podium or two on days of high attrition but if enough cars keep running then at best this car is looking at top five finishes.

How Wrong Was It: Oof... this was an overestimation of the ByKolles operation. The hope was the one team that has been a regular LMP1 competitor for years would able to beat all the newcomers and that did not work out. The best finish for the team was fourth in the 2018 Spa-Francorchamps race and it was all down hill from there. Only two finishes the rest of the season and it missed Sebring.

#5 CEFC TRSM Racing Ginetta G60-LT-P1-Mecachrome
Drivers: Charlie Robertson (Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 2018), Léo Roussel (Le Mans 2018), Dean Stoneman (Spa-Francorchamps 2018), Michael Simpson (Le Mans 2018)

What Did I Write: This car has the most inexperienced line-up in LMP1. Robertson and Roussel both make the move up from LMP2 while Stoneman has not race a prototype of any type and ran three Blancpain Endurance Series races last year in his first year transitioning from single-seater racing. Stoneman is a talented driver but this car was 1.661 seconds off the next fastest car in class. The goal for this team is to get the car to the end of every race and get all three drivers experience for the future.

How Wrong Was It: Unfortunately, the entire Ginetta program didn't make it pass Le Mans 2018 and it is a shame. Technically, the team withdrew from Spa-Francorchamps in 2018 and only got on track for Le Mans. Stoneman was the one guy I felt was ready for LMP1 competition and after a respectable year in Indy Lights three years ago it is sad he hasn't gotten that next break.

#6 CEFC TRSM Racing Ginetta G60-LT-P1-Mecachrome
Drivers: Oliver Rowland, Alex Brundle, Oliver Turvey (All three drivers for Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 2018)

What Did I Write: This all-British line-up looks good on paper. You have two LMP2 experienced drivers in Turvey and Brundle combined with a Formula Two race winner and Williams "young driver," whatever that means. This car was just over a second off the top privateer LMP1 car. The gap isn't great but this team will have some work to do to get to the top of the privateer pile.

How Wrong Was It: Same as the sister car, it was one race for these three and this is a good lineup on paper. In any other entry I think these three are getting solid results. I hope the Ginetta gets a great second chance in 2019-20. It is stepping away from Mecachrome and will have an AER. Of course, everything comes down to money and if the money isn't there then we could be repeating the dismal 2018-19 superseason.

#7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid
Drivers: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, José María López

What Did I Write: This feels like a two-car class with another eight entries waiting to step up and capitalize on any mistakes. This car will win a race or two but historically the #8 Toyota has been the winner. The #7 Toyota has only won three races since Toyota became a full-time competitor in 2013 compared to the #8 Toyota's nine victories in that time period including four last season. This car will win once or twice but it will still be second fiddle.

How Wrong Was It: The team won twice but it was not outmatched. The #7 Toyota was keeping up with the sister car and had it not been for mechanical issues at Spa-Francorchamps in May and a faulty tire sensor at Le Mans in June it might have won more races than the #8 Toyota. Conway and Kobayashi were great and López had a standout season after drawing much criticism when he first joined the Toyota operation. The team was vice-champions but it was better than that.

#8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid
Drivers: Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso

What Did I Write: A championship and at least four victories. It is a high bar but this car won five races last year and the car didn't get weaker in dropping Anthony Davidson for Fernando Alonso. Buemi has been a stud and he is combined with one of the best drivers in the world in Alonso and a reliable hand in Nakajima. This car has waved the Toyota flag for half a decade and I don't see that changing now.

How Wrong Was It: The #8 Toyota won the championship and had five victories. Alonso proved to be great and he fit in with Buemi and Nakajima. The trio swept the two Le Mans that took place in this season. The team may have benefitted from the #7 Toyota experiencing more misfortune and sometimes that is what decides a championship but these three never seemed beatable and for the most part they weren't.

#10 DragonSpeed BR Engineering BR1-Gibson
Drivers: Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman (First three races, Sebring and Le Mans 2019), Pietro Fittipaldi (Spa-Francorchamps 2018), Renger van der Zande (five races), James Allen (Fuji and Shanghai)

What Did I Write: This car will be interesting to watch as this is the only chassis in LMP1 used by two different teams with two different engines. Van der Zande has become a respected driver in IMSA and was the fastest driver in this car at the Prologue and he was about a second and a quarter off the fastest SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1. However, van der Zande will be in and out of the car because of his IMSA duties and Fittipaldi will fill in for the Dutchman when needed. Hanley and Hedman are both new to LMP1 and are not the most experienced prototype drivers. I think this car's success is dependent on van der Zande.

How Wrong Was It: It is crazy to look back at what was written 14 months ago because none of this went to plan. Fittipaldi was hurt at the first race and was never in the car again. Allen was drafted in for two races. The LMP1 DragonSpeed entry finished behind the LMP2 DragonSpeed entry in the World Endurance Drivers' Championship as the LMP1 team had many teething issues with the BR1 and the results were rarely positive. I am sad to see DragonSpeed withdrawing from WEC and from LMP1. The team will be focusing on European Le Mans Series and expanding its IndyCar program. You have to give the team credit for taking a chance.

#11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1-AER
Drivers: Mikhail Aleshin, Vitaly Petrov, Jenson Button (Le Mans 2018 through Shanghai), Brendon Hartley (Sebring) Stoffel Vandoorne (Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 2019)

What Did I Write: This car was 4.372 seconds off the top Toyota at the Prologue test at Circuit Paul Ricard last month and was only 0.010 seconds faster than the Rebellion R13 that participated. Aleshin and Petrov will be on their own until Button joins them at Le Mans. Aleshin has been a quick driver in IndyCar but he showed a tendency for throwing away good results. Petrov had moderate success in the LMP2 class the last few years and he ran the team's fastest lap at the Prologue. Button will be a late addition and he did well in the Super GT season opener but it will be interesting to see if he can adapt quickly to a new situation. I think this car will be of the rest on a few occasions but it will have its off days.

How Wrong Was It: Like I said, 14 months is a long time. Not only were we wondering how Button would do in an LMP1 car but also that Super GT GT500 title seems like another lifetime. He was good but turned his attention to Super GT and family commitments before 2019 started. Aleshin and Petrov were solid. There were retirements in two of the first three races but the team rebounded and was the third-place finisher in the final four races. Not bad and it looks like Vandoorne has found a home, wonderful!

#17 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1-AER
Drivers: Stéphane Sarrazin, Matevos Isaakyan (Four of the first five races), Egor Orudzhev, Sergey Sirotkin (Final three races)

What Did I Write: Sarrazin is the veteran while Isaakyan and Orudzhev both make the transition from single-seaters and a bit of LMP2. Isaakyan and Orudzhev won at Circuit Paul Ricard last year in European Le Mans Series. Sarrazin had taken a step back from full-time competition last year at Toyota. I think he will carry the team but this car will have rough days and be behind the sister car often but it will have a few good outings.

How Wrong Was It: Five retirements, a non-classification, a third at Silverstone after both Toyotas were disqualified and a fourth at Spa-Francorchamps in 2019. I would say there were more rough days than easy days.

#28 TDS Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Loïc Duval (six races), François Perrodo, Matthieu Vaxivière, Jean-Éric Vergne (Fuji), Norman Nato (Spa-Francorchamps)

What Did I Write: You have a 24 Hours of Le Mans winner joining Perrodo, who transitioned quite successfully to LMP2 last year, and Vaxivière also had a good debut year in LMP2. This line-up is doubling up and are running in the European Le Mans Series as well. I am not sure if there is an LMP2 trio that should know each other so well and I think this will be a title contender.

How Wrong Was It: Not as good as previously thought. Its only podium finish was in the finale at Le Mans.

#29 Racing Team Nederland Dallara P217-Gibson
Drivers: Giedo van der Garde, Jan Lammers (Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 2018), Frits van Eerd, Nyck de Vries (Final six races)

What Did I Write: Van der Garde is going to carry this team. He ran the fourth fastest lap at the Prologue but he was nearly a second and a half quicker than Lammers and another second faster than van Eerd. De Vries will replace Lammers after Le Mans and that could be the saving grace for this entry as van der Garde can't carry the load. I expect results to improve in the second half of the season.

How Wrong Was It: First four race results: Seventh, fifth, fifth seventh. Final four race results: Fifth, fifth, fifth, fifth. It was a consistent season and the average finish was better in the second half of the season. De Vries was strong at Le Mans before his accident at Indianapolis. I am excited for de Vries' future. He is no longer a McLaren driver and leads the Formula Two championship. He, van der Garde and van Eerd will be back in 2019-20 and the team will have an Oreca chassis. This is an early sleeper for the class title next season.

#31 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Roberto González, Pastor Maldonado, Nathanaël Berthon (Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 2018), Anthony Davidson (Final six races)

What Did I Write: Maldonado was the top LMP2 driver at the Prologue. González is back for a second year in the LMP2 class. Berthon will start the season in this car before Davidson joins the team after the 24 Hours of Le Mans. LMP2 is kind of a crapshoot but the Oreca was the best LMP2 car last year and I don't see that changing in 2018. Once Davidson joins the team it will only take this car to another level.

How Wrong Was It: Three of the team's four class podium finishes came with Davidson, including its only victory at Spa-Francorchamps. These three meshed together and will move to Jota Sport next year with DragonSpeed not fielding a full-time LMP2 entry in WEC. I like their odds as well.

#36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Nicolas Lapierre, André Negrão, Pierre Thiriet

What Did I Write: Signatech has been a successful team and has the LMP2 title in recent memory. Lapierre was one of those drivers and Negrão had a promising first season in prototypes last year. Thiriet won the LMP2 title in the European Le Mans Series in 2012. This will be a championship-contending team.

How Wrong Was It: This was the championship team with two Le Mans victories and eight podium finishes from eight races. Lapierre might be the best driver not in LMP1 right now and on top of that, remember when he was a promising driver in GP2? Lapierre might be able to still hang in an open-wheel car as well. Negrão had a nice transition to sports car racing. The band will be broken up for 2019-20! Lapierre is joining Cool Racing, which moves up to WEC competition from ELMS and in slots Thomas Laurent as he passes the time as a Toyota reserve driver. This entry is not getting weaker.

#37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Jazeman Jaafar, Weiron Tan and Nabil Jeffri (First five races), Afiq Ikhwan Yazid (Zero Races), Will Stevens (Sebring and Spa-Francorchamps 2019), David Heinemeier Hansson and Jordan King (Final three races), Ricky Taylor (Le Mans 2019)

What Did I Write: This all-Malaysian driver line-up is young with Yazid the oldest driver at 26 years old. Yazid, Jaafar and Tan all won in the Asian Le Mans Series this past season at Buriram. Jeffri will serve as a reserve driver with race participation remaining unknown. Jackie Chan DC Racing had a successful year last season but I think this line-up will be using this season more to gain experience.

How Wrong Was It: I am disappointed the all-Malaysian lineup didn't work out because those three had four podium finishes including a victory at Fuji. They were in the championship fight. However, the drivers drafted in for the 2019 races were no slouches. King, Heinemeier Hansson and Stevens won in their first race together at Sebring. The car held its own at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans.

#38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry, Stéphane Richelmi

What Did I Write: Tung fell just short of the LMP2 title last year and Richelmi brings LMP2 championship experience to the line-up. Aubry will be splitting this season between this and the GP3 Series and he ran the final two races of the previous Asian Le Mans Series season in the LMP3 class with a victory in the finale at Sepang. This team should win a race but the title might be a bit ambitious.

How Wrong Was It: This team won races and the title was not ambitious. It won three of the five races in 2018 and it didn't go down without a fight with the #36 Signatech Alpine in the finale at Le Mans and finished second in class in the race and second in the championship, 15 points back. Jackie Chan DC Racing will downsize to one car for 2019-20. I have to imagine Tung will be involved but you never know.

#50 Larbre Compétition Ligier JS P217-Gibson
Drivers: Erwin Creed, Romano Ricci, Julien Canal (Spa-Francorchamps 2018), Thomas Dagoneau (Le Mans 2018), Yoshiharu Mori (Silverstone), Keiko Ihara (Fuji), Enzo Guibbert (Shanghai), Gunnar Jeannette (Sebring), Nicholas Boulle (Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 2019)

What Did I Write: Creed and Ricci are both moving up from LMP3 in the European Le Mans Series and defending Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers champion Canal was a late addition after the withdrawal of Fernando Rees. I think this car will be mostly gaining experience for Creed and Ricci.

How Wrong Was It: I have to give this team credit because it found a way to have seven drivers rotate through this seat and this team finished leveled on points with Racing Team Nederland with the tiebreaker going to Creed and Ricci because the team finished fourth in the Le Mans finale. I think those are respectable results.

#51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Daniel Serra (Le Mans 2018 and 2019 and Sebring)

What Did I Write: The defending champions Calado and Pier Guidi won three races last year and had seven podium finishes in nine races. AF Corse drivers have won three of five GTE championships in WEC history. I think the team will take a step back but it should be competing for race victories. Daniel Serra will be in the car at Le Mans.

How Wrong Was It: Calado and Pier Guidi took a step back but only one step back, going from champions to vice-champions thanks to a victory in the Le Mans finale. They also won at Silverstone but their only other podium finish was second at Spa-Francorchamps. It wasn't the strongest year but it could have been worse.

#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Sam Bird, Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina (Le Mans 2018 and 2019 and Sebring)

What Did I Write: Bird and Rigon won two races last year and they won twice in 2016 while finishing second in the championship. These guys are good and should give the sister car a run for top AF Corse entry. However, an intra-team battle could allow others to step up and leave AF Corse in the middle of the class.

How Wrong Was It: This car was in the middle of the class. It's only podium finish was in the Spa-Francorchamps season opener and its next best finish was sixth, which happened four times.

#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT
Drivers: Stefan Mücke, Oliver Pla, Billy Johnson (Spa-Francorchamps 2018, Le Mans 2018 and 2019 and Sebring)

What Did I Write: The two Fords are pretty interchangeable with less than a tenth covering the two cars and less than a second covered all five drivers that participated in the Prologue. Mücke and Pla was the top Ford in 2016 with a victory and two runner-up finishes but took a step back in 2017 with only one podium finish. This car should be a podium threat. Billy Johnson will be in the car for this year's races at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans.

How Wrong Was It: The season started strong for this Ford team but after winning the Spa-Francorchamps season opener and finishing third in the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans the #66 Ford never returned to the podium despite winning pole position in class twice.

#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT
Drivers: Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, Tony Kanaan (Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 2018), Jonathan Bomarito (Sebring and Le Mans 2019)

What Did I Write: Priaulx and Tincknell finished third in the championship last year but didn't seem like a contender. Ford is looking to make a championship push in its third year. The team has had lulls in the middle of each of its first two seasons. I think Priaulx and Tincknell will lead the Ford team and could make a title push. Tony Kanaan will be in the car for this year's races at Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans.

How Wrong Was It: Priaulx and Tincknell ended up on top of the Ford battle but didn't really push for the championship. It had four podium finishes but never won a race.

Drivers: Nick Catsburg, Martin Tomczyk, Philipp Eng (Le Mans 2018 and 2019), Alexander Sims (Sebring)

What Did I Write: Tomczyk is a past Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters champion and he spent 2017 driving for BMW Team RLL in IMSA where he won a race at Laguna Seca and had four podium finishes in 11 races. Catsburg has experience in GT3 series and touring cars. This is going to be a rough year but it will not be because of the drivers. Eng will be in the car at Le Mans.

How Wrong Was It: This team had one good day, a runner-up finish at Sebring. BMW is bouncing from WEC after one season. I feel bad for all these drivers because I don't think the 2018-19 season does justice to their abilities.

Drivers: António Félix da Costa, Tom Blomqvist (Spa-Francorchamps 2018, Fuji and Shangahi), Augusto Farfus (Five races), Alexander Sims (Le Mans 2018), Bruno Spengler (Sebring), Jesse Krohn (Le Mans 2019)

What Did I Write: For a new team and new car, this Prologue test result was a promising sign. Da Costa is an underrated driver and Blomqvist has had a good career in Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters. However, both these drivers lack endurance race experience and that could hold this team back. Farfus will be the third driver at Le Mans.

How Wrong Was It: Like the sister car, this team's best result was second, which came at Fuji. I don't want to say the BMW program was doomed from the start but I can't imagine you can get the most out of a team when it was only going to last for one season.

#91 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz, Frédéric Makowiecki (Le Mans 2018 and 2019)

What Did I Write: The Porsches look real good and Bruni is back in the WEC and motivated. Bruni and Lietz combine for three championships in GTE out of five seasons and Lietz finished second in the championship by eight points. They were the fastest two drivers at the Prologue. I do not expect a beat down but if the #91 Porsche is leading the championship 365 days from now nobody would be surprised. Makowiecki will be the third driver at Le Mans.

How Wrong Was It: The #91 Porsche did not win the championship but it had a standout season with one victory and three runner-up finishes, unfortunately, its defeat came from within.

#92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre, Laurens Vanthoor (Le Mans 2018 and 2019)

What Did I Write: Christensen and Estre had three podium finishes last year but had four retirements. I don't expect that same level of bad luck. These drivers are capable of winning races but I think it will be very difficult to be the best Porsche in GTE-Pro let alone the best in class. Vanthoor joins this team at Le Mans.

How Wrong Was It: This was the best Porsche in GTE-Pro and not only was it the best Porsche but it was the World Endurance GTE Drivers' Champions. Two victories, including the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans and six podium finishes. Christensen and Estre were tremendous, Porsche were tremendous and the manufactures' title was locked up before the finale.

#95 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Marco Sørensen, Nicki Thiim, Darren Turner (Spa-Francorchamps 2018, Le Mans 2018 and 2019 and Sebring)

What Did I Write: Aston Martin won two races last year and in the other seven races had a combined zero podium finishes. This year comes with a new car and it will take some time for it to challenge the Porsches, Fords and Ferraris. The one comforting thing is Aston Martin does find a way to have a few good races and this line-up should have its day in the sun but not be a title contender.

How Wrong Was It: Sørensen and Thiim won at Shanghai but that was its only day in the sun. No other podium finishes and what could have been a bright spot winning pole position for Le Mans in 2019 was doused with pre-race Balance of Performance that undercut the Aston Martin's performance and took both cars out of the fight before Le Tricolore waved.

#97 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Alex Lynn, Maxime Martin, Jonathan Adam (Spa-Francorchamps 2018 and Le Mans 2018 and 2019)

What Did I Write: Adam is the veteran in the team as Lynn moves over from part-time LMP2 experience and Martin joins the team from the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters. I think this car will be in the back half of the GTE-Pro field on a regular basis and be regularly behind the sister car.

How Wrong Was It: Like the sister car, it had one day in the sun... well... their day came in the snow at Spa-Francorchamps in 2019 with a class victory but just like the #95 Aston Martin, no podium finishes in the other seven races.

#54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Francesco Castellacci, Giancarlo Fisichella, Thomas Flöhr

What Did I Write: Castellacci and Flöhr have been running with each other for quite a while dating back to GT3 competition and last year WEC was a good year with Miguel Molina as their third driver. This year they get a superb third driver in Fisichella. Castellacci and Flöhr won at Fuji last year and had four podium finishes but the Porsches look really strong this year.

How Wrong Was It: The team had two podium finishes, both runner-up finishes, and they were fourth in the Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers. Not a bad year and the Porsches were strong.

#56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Jörg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey, Egidio Perfetti

What Did I Write: Bergmeister is one of the top Porsche GT drivers and Lindsey has had a good career competing as an amateur in the United States. They race together with Park Place Motorsports in IMSA and that familiarity should be in their favor. Perfetti is a bit of an unknown but he was on pace with Lindsey at the Prologue. This team will do well but I am not sure it will have what it takes to be a championship contender.

How Wrong Was It: I present you with the 2018-19 Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers champions. The 2018-19 GTE-Am class is complicated but after eight races, the Team Project 1 Porsche won the title with 151 points, victories at Fuji and in the season finale at Le Mans and six podium finishes. Bergmeister was great, Lindsey kept up the form he has shown in IMSA's GTD class and those two had worked together before in IMSA. Perfetti didn't shy away from the higher level of competition. Bravo to this team.

#61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok (First five races), Luís Pérez Companc and Matteo Cressoni (Final three races)

What Did I Write: Clearwater Racing did not need a year to acclimate to WEC after years of running Asian Le Mans Series last year. The team retains the same line-up from last year and this trio finished third in the championship after winning a race and having six podium finishes and finishing in the top five in all nine races. I think this year will be a little tougher and I am not sure this car will be in the championship fight.

How Wrong Was It: The #61 Ferrari was third in the season opener but the next four races were finishes of fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. Talk about a gradual decline. It leveled off at the end of the year. The team missed Sebring after totaling a car in practice but recovered for third place results among the WEC GTE-Am teams in the final two races.

#70 MR Racing Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Olivier Beretta, Eddie Cheever III, Motoaki Ishikawa

What Did I Write: Beretta is a respected veteran but there are a lot of stout professionals in this class. He and Ishikawa raced together in the Blancpain Endurance Series last year. Cheever III has been holding his own in GT3 competition and he was running a Cadillac DPi-V.R. for Spirit of Daytona at the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring this year. However, I think this team's lack of experience will hold it back.

How Wrong Was It: The team's best finish was fifth. It wasn't a bad year and I think Cheever III and Ishikawa gained a lot of experience.

#77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Matt Campbell, Christian Ried, Julien Andlauer (Seven races), Riccardo Pera (Spa-Francorchamps 2019)

What Did I Write: Ried finished second in the championship and he is adding an extremely gifted Porsche driver in Campbell and Andlauer is a promising Porsche junior driver. Andlauer was the sixth fastest driver in class at the Prologue behind the likes of Matteo Cairoli, Ben Barker, Campbell, Alex Davison and Jörg Bergmeister. This team is the favorite for the class championship.

How Wrong Was It: This is where the class gets complicated. The #77 Porsche won two of the first three races including the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, after it had been found the data loggers manipulated refueling times it led to the two Dempsey-Proto Racing entries to be stripped of all their points from the first three races and a disqualification from Fuji.

The #77 Porsche went from leading the class with 80 points to zero. The team recovered to finish second in the championship on 110 points. The team cheated but that does not take away from what these drivers did on track. This team won five races and Campbell is the next great Porsche driver in waiting. The drivers should be applauded for their accomplishment. Other teams may have folded after the penalty. This team gave it 100% every race and went into the finale with a shot at the title.

#88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Khalid Al-Qubaisi (Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 2018 and Shanghai), Matteo Cairoli, Giorgio Roda (Seven races), Gianluca Roda (Silverstone, Sebring and Spa-Francorchamps 2019), Satoshi Hoshino (Silverstone and Le Mans 2019), Riccardo Pera (Shanghai)

What Did I Write: Cairoli finished second in this championship last year while Al-Qubaisi has had endurance racing success in the 24H Series and Roda moves over from the European Le Mans Series. I think the two Dempsey-Proton entries will be going head-to-head for class victories in many races this season.

How Wrong Was It: This car did not win a race in 2018-19 with its best finish being third at Shanghai.

#86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Michael Wainwright, Ben Barker, Alex Davison (First three races), Thomas Preining (Final five races)

What Did I Write: Last year was a good one for Gulf Racing UK as the team picked up two podium finishes. Barker and Wainwright return with Davison joining after a long career in his native Australia in the Supercars series. I think this team will challenge for race victories but I am not sure it can make a title push.

How Wrong Was It: This team did not challenge for race victories and it never finished on the podium meaning it didn't make a title push either.

#90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Drivers: Euan Hankey (Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans 2018 and 2019), Charlie Eastwood, Salih Yoluç, Jonathan Adam (Silverstone through Sebring)

What Did I Write: TF Sport nearly won the European Le Mans Series GTE title last year in the team's first year in the series but fell two points short. Hankey and Yoluç won a race and had five podium finishes in six races in that series with Nicki Thiim as the third driver. Hankey and Yoluç also made their Le Mans debut last year with Rob Bell and finished seventh in class. I don't think this car will be at the front of the class but it will have respectable results.

How Wrong Was It: This car was at the front of the class and had plenty of respectable results. It had four runner-up finishes but just couldn't breakthrough for a victory. Eastwood and Yoluç were third in the Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers, a great result for those two in their rookie season in WEC.

#98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage GTE
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda

What Did I Write: This is the GTE-Am stalwart and this trio finally got its elusive class championship last year. I don't expect them to fall off but I think this year will be this team's greatest challenge yet. It could run eight successful races and that not be enough to take the title. This car will win a race or two but I am not penciling it in for the title this year.

How Wrong Was It: This car won one race, the season opener at Spa-Francorchamps and its only other podium finish was third at Fuji, leading to a seventh place finish in the championship. I think we are all due for an off year. If this team returns unchanged, I would not be surprised if it bounced back.

The 2019-20 season will feel like a lame-duck year before the introduction of the hypercar regulations but there is calmness after the long 2018-19 season and the equally long wait for the direction of the series' top class.

Toyota will be back as the only manufacture in LMP1 and Alonso will be gone with Brendon Hartley moving in to fill the void. All signs point to the 2019-20 season being another year of Toyota domination but the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans saw the privateer LMP1 entries go from finishing 12 laps behind the overall winning Toyota in 2018 to six laps behind. There is still a significant margin between Toyota and the rest of the field and it still seems unlikely Toyota will be beaten straight up in 2019-20 by either Rebellion, SMP Racing or Ginetta but the closing gap at least makes it more interesting should Toyota stumble.

The GTE-Pro class will look a lot thinner with Ford and BMW withdrawing from the championship. A few years ago the idea of GTE-Pro qualifying races were floated out there because of the brevity of the class, now we are back to what 2014 looked like, three manufactures and six cars.

Part of me longs for a GT world championship, something that could stand on its own with six or eight manufactures. I wish Ford and BMW didn't have to go and I wish Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG, Honda and/or McLaren would join the party. When the LMP1/hypercar regulations were up in the air and the FIA and ACO were struggling over what to do to attract manufactures I was set with doing away with prototype racing, as crazy as it sounds, and just having GTE be the part, one pro class, one amateur class, making the bar for entry clear and likely enticing more brands into the party.

After such a long season the next season will be here before we know it. The Prologue from Barcelona will be July 23-24, less than a month away and the first round will be September 1st from Silverstone. It will take getting used to this but this quick offseason might not be so bad after all.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Is Anyone Happy?

Alexander Rossi spanked the field at Road America in what was a fun race. NASCAR took another spin around the carousel while the 24 Hours Nürburgring and the World Touring Car Cup jumped on the Karussell. There wasn't a disqualification after the Truck race. World Superbike continues on. The Formula E title is pretty much a formality at this point even though there are six drivers mathematically eligible for the title with two races to go. Formula One had a race, which means people are mad about something and that is a great segue into this week's topic. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is Anyone Happy?
This really stems back to two weeks ago after the IndyCar race at Texas, the Formula One race at Montreal, the NASCAR race at Michigan and the lead up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Nobody seemed happy.

People were yelling over the Formula One race from Montreal and Sebastian Vettel's penalty. Everyone was looking to point fingers at Scott Dixon or Colton Herta at the end of the Texas IndyCar race and it was another IndyCar oval race. Any IndyCar oval race that isn't the Indianapolis 500 is an existential crisis for the series and fanbase. The FIA and the ACO still had not announced the hypercar regulations and many were angry over the future direction of the top class of prototype racing and then I watched the NASCAR race on Monday and saw every driver give a post-race interview and none of them seemed thrilled to be there and it got me wondering...

Is anyone happy?

I know there is a fine line and life is difficult and it can't all be roses. There are going to be low points and there are going to be things we have to face that are not the most pleasing but when everybody around every series is down you have to stop and wonder what is going on?

Let's tackle these one-by-one:

Formula One had the world up in arms over Vettel's penalty for unsafely rejoining the racetrack. People were jumping down the throats of the stewards, many were throwing in the towel and it doesn't help that Formula One has hit a patch where most races are processional and everyone is making one pit stop about a third of the way through the race and then that is it.

On top of that we had another lackluster race in France, there were very few battles on track for position and Daniel Ricciardo was dropped from seventh in the finishing order to 11th because of two penalties because the Australian went off course on two separate occasions but at least Ricciardo wasn't punted out of the points seconds after taking the checkered flag; his demotion down the order came hours after the race. 

NASCAR had a race rained out and pushed to 5:00 p.m. ET on a Monday and right before a week off. Add to that an aero package that made the Michigan race rather processional and the biggest passing opportunities coming when cars lost momentum making those drivers sitting ducks to cars from behind. On top of that there were drivers disgruntled over Joey Logano jumping the final restart and no satisfaction in the decision making process and no clear angle on whether or not an infraction occurred. 

To make things better for NASCAR, when the Cup Series was off, the Truck Series had a race at Iowa, Johnny Sauter ran down Austin Hill under caution and drilled him, leading to a suspension for Sauter and a fracture over whether or not Sauter should have been penalized and if he was penalized enough.

IndyCar had another oval race and every oval race is another sky is falling moment. On top of that IndyCar is trying to plan its next engine regulations and off the back of Porsche flirting with IndyCar and then deciding not to pursue a relationship a few months ago, BMW comes out and says IndyCar provides nothing for the manufacture, leaving IndyCar is a vicarious position over what will attract new manufactures and the series showing an unwillingness to adopt hybrid electric engines even if that is what could attract a few manufactures.

The World Endurance Championship was the one series that kind of turned it around. There was hemming and hawing to the 11th hour over the hypercar regulations and what would be best for the top class of prototype racing. Those regulations were published, Aston Martin and Toyota were the first two committals and we are moving on to the 2020-21 with at least some competition and waiting to see who else decides to come and play.

Of course, the 24 Hours of Le Mans had the traditional Balance of Performance squabbles and there was dissatisfaction over the safety car procedure that overwhelmingly benefitted the GTE-Pro leading Ferrari and for the second consecutive year there was a disqualification of a class winner the day after the race with this time it being the GTE-Am winning Keating Motorsports Ford GT and that led to many inquiries over how fuel was weight and fuel cells were checked. 

I do have to stop and take a moment and point out that everything isn't terrible. There is a difference between the difficulties in the processes of a motorsports series and things being bad in the sense nothing is working. Not everything will be easy when it comes to regulations, penalty decisions and the on-track action. It is kind of like having a home. There is difference between having to do chores, such as mow the lawn, clean the shower and toilet and vacuum the living room, and having a house with a massive hole in the roof, a bug infestation in the basement and electricity that shorts out on a daily basis.

I think most of the things that were getting me down were the procedural nature of motorsport and it doesn't mean it is bad but it is hard and not everyone can be happy all the time.

There are problems and there are things that have to be fixed. I think Formula One is the best example. It seems like we have been talking about it for five or six years now but Formula One is at a crossroads. We have been saying it can't continue on with the disparity in competition for years but I think we have reached a breaking point. There is a sense of enough but that change will have to wait until 2021 and the teams cannot seem to agree over those regulations.

Once the hypercar regulations were announced it felt like the WEC could move on to the next step. It was almost a case of everyone was waiting for the decision and once it was made people saw the direction of the series and calmed down. On top of that, WEC had a great 2018-19 season and it seems the split calendar season is going to work out. There are still some bugs with BMW and Ford both withdrawing factory efforts from the GTE-Pro class but the series has had this before. It wasn't that long ago that Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin were the three GTE-Pro manufactures. It wasn't long ago the LMP2 class had only four or five full-time entries. It is a part of the life of a series. You have great highs but you are going to have to have a few valleys here and there.

IndyCar is doing great and it isn't some bullshit "everything is awesome" feeling. People are genuinely happy. There is a sense people are having fun and enjoying the series. Even after Road America, which would be a race easily to get down on and say the series is in trouble because Alexander Rossi led 54 of 55 laps and won by 28-plus seconds, people seem happy with the race despite Rossi running away with it. It sounds crazy but people saw great battles from second to 13th and were happy. That sounds crazy but there wasn't a lot of anger in the immediate aftermath Road America and that is a change.

Now, it is IndyCar. It was a series that tried to kill itself but only successfully blew its jaw off. There is always going to be a little anxiousness. Things may be improving but it is still rough and the margins are thin. Everyone is happy but knows it can be worse and there is a trepidation that this moment in time will disappear tomorrow and those dark days from 1996 to 2015 will return again. It is hard to feel safe when you were in hell for two decades.

NASCAR is in a similar boat to Formula One. NASCAR is facing an identity crisis and could be up against a breaking point. The series changed the aero package to make the racing closer but closer doesn't necessarily mean better. The schedule was shook up for 2020 but more changes are being promoted for 2021 though there are no real tracks on the periphery that are ready for NASCAR. People want short tracks but those are hard to come by and with all this talk of change there is a little skepticism over how much NASCAR will really do. It is really a case of NASCAR accepting where it is and not where it was.

But there are things that NASCAR should be happy about. The short track racing is a bright spot. It has highly talented drivers in Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott. The series is going to take a chance on a doubleheader at Pocono last year. There are concerns over the number of entries, the cost for teams, sponsorship, crowd size and a lot more. It is a transition and this transition is going to be tough. This is a family that is downsizing from a house with six bedrooms, four bathrooms and ten acres to a townhouse with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a strip of grass out from and in the back because one of the parents lost a job and had to take a massive pay cut. It is going to take a while to get accustomed to what can and cannot be done.

A few weeks ago it definitely felt like being in a room with 15 people who were all yelling and through the chaos clearly wondering what was going on and how it became this way. I think there was some time to breathe and calm down. There are still procedural items that have to be discussed and analyzed and those will not be the most fun but it has to be done but just because it can be a headache doesn't mean everything is falling apart.

Sometimes when things seem bad you just have to give it time and the hot air passes over and things do not seem that bad after all.

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

Lewis Hamilton won the French Grand Prix, his fourth consecutive victory and his sixth victory of the season. 

The #4 Phoenix Racing Audi of Dries Vanthoor, Pierre Kaffer, Frank Stippler and Frédéric Vervisch won the 24 Hours Nürburgring. 

Norbert Michelisz, Johan Kristoffersson and Benjamin Leuchter split the World Touring Car Cup races from the Nürburgring Nordschleife. It was the first career WTCR victories for Kristoffersson and Leuchter.

Ryan Norman and Rinus VeeKay split the Indy Lights races from Road America. Kyle Kirkwood swept the Indy Pro 2000 races, his first two victories in the series. Hunter McElrea and Braden Eves split the U.S. F2000 races. It was McElrea's first U.S. F2000 victory.

Nyck de Vries and Anthoine Hubert split the Formula Two races from Circuit Paul Ricard. Jehan Daruvala and Robert Shwartzman split the Formula Three races.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Sonoma, his fourth victory of the season. Ross Chastain won the Truck race from Gateway, his second victory of the season.

Jean-Éric Vergne won the Bern ePrix.

Jonathan Rea won the World Superbike races from Misano with Álvaro Bautista winning the Superpole race. Randy Krummenacher won the World Supersport race, his fourth victory of the season and he has won all four odd-numbered races this season.

Naoki Yamamoto won the Super Formula race from Sportsland SUGO.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One heads up the Alps to the Austrian Grand Prix. 
The Dutch TT. 
The 6 Hours of the Glen.
NASCAR visits Chicagoland Speedway. 
Misano has its third different series visit in the last four weeks with Blancpain World Challenge Europe coming to town. 
Super GT heads to Buriram. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

First Impressions: Road America 2019

1. After knocking on the door for the last month, Alexander Rossi kicked it down with a standout performance at Road America, leading 54 of 55 laps on to an emphatic victory by 28.4391 seconds over the Team Penske entries that had made his last four weeks a complete nightmare. This was not a surprise; at least the victory was not a surprise. Rossi has this tendency if he is in the vincinity of the top step of the podium he usually gets there in a timely fashion.

Three runner-up finishes in four races isn't what any driver wants but for Rossi he doesn't drop off. He doesn't go from second to 12th. He comes back in the next race and finds himself back in the fight and if two or three races it hasn't happened, just give it one more because he will likely breakthrough.

It happened last year at Long Beach and Mid-Ohio and it happened this year at Long Beach and now Road America. I think the biggest difference this year is he hasn't coughed up many points because of his own mistakes. Austin was the one that got away. He should have at least finished second but a caution coming out before his final pit stop shuffled him back and he had to rally to finish ninth.

Rossi has been stout this year and when he is on it everyone is in trouble. He may not have started on pole position today but he beat Colton Herta on the outside of turn one and three and he had a 1.3 second lead after lap one. It is something we are accustomed to seeing in Formula One with Lewis Hamilton. Rossi needed a fantastic start to summer and he got it in Wisconsin.

2. Will Power may have earned the least thrilling runner-up finish of his career. He pressured Herta on the first stint when Herta struggled on the alternate tire but he was already nine seconds behind Rossi at that point. He never had Rossi in sight outside of when Rossi was exiting the pit lane as Power was entering his box. Power was the best Penske entry today and second is a fitting result.

3. Josef Newgarden stayed on Power's rear wing all race and it got him a third place finish. It might be a little bit of shocker for the Penske teammates after the dominant run Newgarden had last year and the horsepower advantage Chevrolet has been touting all year. Honda locked out the front row and neither Penske could keep up with Rossi. Newgarden had to fight late to hold on to third but he got it and on a day Rossi was in another zip code, Newgarden didn't slip up and he keeps the championship lead though it will be tight heading into Canada.

4. Graham Rahal didn't put a wheel wrong and he finished fourth. Rahal is damn good at this track but every year he seems to only be third, fourth or fifth. If one of these years his team could find that last quarter-second he is going to win this race, which would be long awaited for his family. Road America aside, it is two consecutive top five finishes for Rahal, the first time he has done that since 2017.

5. It appeared it was going to be the day from hell again for Scott Dixon in turn five on lap one. Dixon was running wide anyway but slight contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay sent Dixon around and dropped him from the less-than-stellar middle of the field to dead last. Dixon picked his way through the field thanks to starting on the primary tire. He was 12th when he made his first pit stop and from there he got up into the top ten. At the end, Dixon found his way pass Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe to get a fifth place finish.

If he doesn't get spun it would have been interesting to see how high Dixon could have climbed. Seventh is a great day and he wasn't going to get within touching distance with Rossi but could he have positioned himself to get on the podium instead of being in a drag out fight for fifth in the closing laps? Probably. It is an outstanding performance for Dixon but after the month of June he had Dixon needed a little better.

6. Everyone seems to be kicking Felix Rosenqvist out of the Ganassi seat for the last three weeks and he response with a run from 18th to eighth at Road America and finishing directly behind his teammate Dixon. Rosenqvist didn't put a wheel wrong and he started on the primary tire as well. That got him spots early and set him up for this result. Rosenqvist followed his teammates footsteps late and got a sixth place finish out of it.

My goodness, two top five finishes and now six top ten finishes from his first ten starts is respectable for a rookie but it seems like everyone is anticipating Chip Ganassi chewing up and spitting out another young driver just like he did last year to Ed Jones. What people forget is Rosenqvist has been on the top of Ganassi's list for the last four years but he couldn't get him because of Formula E commitments. Unless the bottom falls out in the next seven races, Rosenqvist is staying put at Ganassi for a sophomore season. Ganassi might be an asshole but he isn't tossing this Swede to the curb.

7. James Hinchcliffe was the first driver of the three-stoppers to pit on the first stint and from there he was making up ground. It was clear if you stopped first you were going to have advantage in the pit cycle and it got Hinchcliffe into the top five. It was a tough battle late between him, Herta, Dixon and Rosenqvist and he got held up by Herta. That battle kind of took the two out of it and allowed the Ganassi cars through. It has now been 15 races since Hinchcliffe's most recent top five finish. He nearly had one today and that makes seventh a slight disappointment.

8. After blooming early in spring, Colton Herta wilted and could not buy a result in April, May or June. He looked great today and he was second or third best today. What hurt Herta was his car was junk on the alternate tire at least two laps before others at the end of stints and that cost him ground. That cost him a spot to Power before the first stop and he went from fifth to eighth in the final two laps because of it.

Add to that a lengthy first stop because of a re-fueling issue and Herta went from podium contender to eighth. I think if Herta has a clean first stop he would have found a way around Power on the second stint because his car was great. This should have been a better result than eighth. If anything, Herta has inherited the points cough that plagued Rossi last year.

9. Simon Pagenaud was the man on a move at start going from 16th to seventh in the first nine laps! He started on the alternate tire and he seemed to not have the wear issue that the rest of the field experienced. He kind of stalled out after that and ninth was all he could do. He did have a battle with Herta, which was for like sixth or seventh and the two drivers made contact side-by-side, both drivers lost time, Dixon got pass those two and Pagenaud didn't have anything after that.

10. Takuma Sato stole a top ten finish late and this might be a missed day for Sato. He started sixth but didn't spend much time at the front while his teammate Rahal was within touching distance of the podium. It has still been a great year for Sato.

11. Quickly through the rest of the field: Ryan Hunter-Reay was fortunate not to get penalized for the contact with Dixon but he looked good on that first stint. He was in the top ten after the first pit stop but what killed Hunter-Reay on the final stint was the alternate tire and he dropped to 11th in the closing laps. This is a big miss for him. Sébastien Bourdais was on the edge of the top ten all race and he was directly behind Hunter-Reay for it seemed 40 of 55 laps. Marcus Ericsson had an off, nearly hit the barrier in turn five and recovered to finish 13th. Not bad for his first time to Road America.

12. Spencer Pigot started in the top ten but he lost ground again and that seems to be a theme for Ed Carpenter Racing. The team has qualifying pace but it is only good enough for eighth, ninth or tenth and in the race the team doesn't have it. Pigot got 14th out of this one but it has to be better. Jack Harvey rounded out the top fifteen. This was a quieter weekend from Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing than we are used to but not bad. It seems like Max Chilton cannot do better than 16th and I guess it is a good thing he beat his teammate Patricio O'Ward by a position.

13. Zach Veach is in a terrible sophomore slump. Santino Ferrucci was the one guy to take on the four-stop strategy and it got him into the top ten before his second stop but his third stint was dreadful and his third stop came only ten laps after the second and 19th was all he could do. Matheus Leist and Tony Kanaan were 20th and 21st respectively. It isn't getting any better. Ed Jones fell back, just like his ECR teammate, and he finished 22nd. Marco Andretti had an engine going sour and that is a bummer for him after he started tenth.

14. Firestone did a great job this weekend. The tire drop off was great but the issue with Road America is the track's length makes the pit windows miniscule. It was really a choice between a 13-lap stint, 14-lap stint or 15-lap stint and everyone was doing it on three stops. The one way that could be fixed is if the tires dropped off more. The alternate tire was getting hairy after nine or ten laps, which is good but if it was starting to get bad around six or seven laps in it might force drivers to make an extra pit stop.

Once again, Firestone cannot keep making a softer tire and part of it is the conditions. Today was not a scorching, sunny day. It was overcast and comfortable. If the temperature was ten degrees higher then maybe the alternate tire would have dropped off in seven laps and drivers would have stopped after 11 laps and either decided to do four stops or stretch it and make it in three stops.

The only other thing I can think of to add variety at Road America is have the teams start on half a tank of fuel that way everyone would have to stop at lap seven or eight but then again that wouldn't create variety but rather just force everyone to make four stops.

I think it should be pointed out that while everyone is pretty much forced to make three pit stops it was a great race. Rossi ran away with it but Newgarden, Rahal and Herta were jockeying for position, Dixon went from 23rd at the end of lap one to fifth at the checkered flag, Dixon and Hunter-Reay were picking off drivers almost every lap at the end of the first stint, Pagenaud went from 16th to seventh in the first eight laps, Rosenqvist was making up ground, Herta lost ground and worked his way back up and then down again and there was not a caution in this race!

People are going to look back and see a 28-second margin of victory with Rossi leading 54 of 55 laps and think this race was a bore but it was not that. Not every race has a 27-second margin of victory but I am keen on saying that a race is more than the race for the lead and the broadcast pointed out it out in the closing laps. While Rossi had a 26-second lead, the gap from second to 12th was 26 seconds.

This was another beat down from Alexander Rossi but there was plenty of jostling for position up and down the order and it was a reminder of how great Road America is as a racetrack.

15. The television cameras picked up on a chunk of curbing that had come loose and was sitting on the edge of the racing line and that was with just over 20 laps to go. Many wanted a caution as a safety precaution and I get it because that could have cut down a tire or hit a driver but in the same breath the booth was pointing out the marbles in the kink and the potential danger if a driver got off line trying to make a pass.

I get it but we can't just throw a caution for every stone and for marbles. That was a large chunk of concrete and the aeroscreen cannot come soon enough but where is the line? It wasn't debris as in something extraneous on the racetrack such as a wing endplate or an aluminum can and I think that is why no caution was displayed.

That might not be good reasoning for some but I get it and if you look at where the concrete was on the outside of turn seven you know cars are very rarely side-by-side in that corner and if a car were to have hit that chunk it would most likely have been with the left side tires and thrown it off course and not into another car and put a driver in jeopardy. Once again, that might not be a good reason for some because it is still there and you never know what could happen but I don't think race control makes decisions and disregarded the safety of the drivers. The track would not have stayed green if race control felt the drivers were in danger.

16. IndyCar gets another week off and then it will be a visit to Toronto, the final street course race of the season!

Morning Warm-Up: Road America 2019

Colton Herta set another record at Road America
Colton Herta won the first pole position of his IndyCar career and the first pole position for Harding Steinbrenner Racing after laying down a lap at 102.9920 seconds in the final round of qualifying at Road America. Herta becomes the youngest pole-sitter in IndyCar history at 19 years and 83 days old, breaking Graham Rahal's record of 20 years and 90 days old. Herta has finished outside the top ten in seven consecutive races. His father Bryan had three stretches of worse luck in his IndyCar career. Bryan had ten consecutive starts without a top ten finish from Surfers Paradise through Toronto in 1995 and got off the snide with a runner-up finish at Cleveland. In 1996, Bryan had eight consecutive results outside the top ten from Rio de Janeiro to Portland with a fifth at Cleveland ending that spell. Bryan had another stretch of ten consecutive results outside the top ten to close the 2001 CART season from Chicago Motor Speedway to Fontana. Bryan's next start would come at Texas Motor Speedway in the IRL in 2003 and he would finish fifth. Bryan Herta's first career pole position came in his eighth start at Phoenix in 1995. Bryan retired after 170 laps and finished 17th.

Alexander Rossi will start beside Herta on row one after missing out on pole position by 0.1773 seconds. This is Rossi's first front row start at Road America and his fifth front row start of the season. Rossi has finished in the top five in four consecutive races, the longest stretch of consecutive top five finishes of his IndyCar career. He has finished in the top ten of the 15 of the last 16 races. This is the fourth time Rossi has started second in his IndyCar career. The first time he started second was when entrant's points set the grid at Gateway last year when qualifying was rained out. He started second at Austin, which Herta won, and the Sunday Belle Isle race, which Scott Dixon won.

Will Power ends the snide of three consecutive starts outside the top ten and he will start third on an all-Penske row two with Josef Newgarden to his outside. Power has won the tenth race of the season only once in his career and that was at Toronto in 2010. His only other podium finishes in the tenth race were third at Toronto in 2009 and second at Iowa in 2016. He has finished outside the top fifteen in the tenth race of the season five times including his 23rd place finish last year at Road America. Last year, Newgarden became the 11th different driver in the last 11 seasons to win the first race of summer extending a streak that includes Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Carlos Huertas, Graham Rahal, Will Power and Scott Dixon. Only two of those drivers won the first race of summer and the championship in the same season, Franchitti and Hunter-Reay. In only 30 of the previous 85 qualifying seasons has the winner of the first race of summer gone on and won the championship.

For the second time this season there is an all-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing row with Graham Rahal starting fifth and Takuma Sato starting sixth. Rahal's best career finish in the tenth race of a season came at Road America in 2007 when he finished third. Since then he has finished in fifth place twice in the tenth race of the season, at Toronto in 2010 and at Iowa in 2013. Sato has finished in the top fifteen in eight consecutive races. His previous best streak of consecutive top fifteen finishes was six and it happened on two occasions. The first was from Fontana 2012 to the 2013 Indianapolis 500. The second was from Pocono 2015 to Barber 2016. Last year, RLLR had two appearances in the Fast Six between Rahal and Sato combined. The team has five Fast Six appearances through the first six opportunities this season.

Sébastien Bourdais will start on row four in seventh position. Bourdais has never won from seventh on the grid in his IndyCar career. His best finish from seventh on the grid was third in the second race of the 2013 Toronto doubleheader. Bourdais is only one of two drivers from continental Europe to have won at Road America. The other is Alex Zanardi, who won at Road America in 1997. Spencer Pigot joins Bourdais on row four. This will be Pigot's 49th career IndyCar start. No driver in IndyCar history has scored a first career victory in the 49th start of a career. This is the fifth time Pigot has started in the top ten this season. Entering 2019, he had only started in the top ten on three occasions in his IndyCar career.

James Hinchcliffe rolls off from ninth position, his fourth consecutive top ten start since starting 32nd in the Indianapolis 500. Hinchcliffe could become the fifth different Canadian to win at Road America. Road America holds the records for most different Canadian winners and for location of most Canadian victories. Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Tagliani and Jacques Villeneuve, brother of Gilles, have combined to win six races at this track. Marco Andretti rounds out the top ten, matching his best starting position of the season, which came at the Indianapolis. Michael Andretti won on June 23 in 1991 at Portland. Andretti Autosport has won the last two races to occur on June 23rd but both of those were at Iowa in 2012 and 2013 with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe responsible for those respective victories.

Ed Jones qualified 11th, matching his best starting position at Road America. Jones has only one top ten finish through his first eight starts in 2019. In his first two seasons, Jones had four top ten finishes in his first eight starts in each season and he had at least one podium finish in his first eight starts in each of those seasons. Scott Dixon had an engine failure coming to the pit lane after his final qualifying lap in round one. Dixon advanced but he was unable to contest in round two and he will start 12th. Dixon has finished outside the top fifteen in three of the last four races. He has not had four finishes outside the top fifteen in a five-race period since 2005 when he finished outside the top fifteen at Michigan, Kentucky, Pikes Peak and Chicagoland and he had a seventh place finish at Sonoma between Pikes Peak and Chicagoland. Despite approaching a historic low-point for Dixon, he has five podium finishes from the first nine races, his best total since he had five podium finishes from nine races in 2009.

Patricio O'Ward will start 13th for his Road America debut with Zach Veach joining him on row seven. Road America will be O'Ward's eighth career IndyCar start and he could become the eighth driver to score a first career victory in an eighth career start. The most recent occurrence was Richie Hearn at Las Vegas on September 15, 1996. Veach has only three top ten starts on a natural-terrain road course with this being his tenth appearance. His average starting position at natural-terrain road courses is now 15.5. His average finishing position on natural-terrain road courses is 18.444 with his only top ten finish being tenth at Mid-Ohio last year. He has finished outside the top fifteen in five of nine natural-terrain road course starts.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 15th, his career worst starting position at Road America, and Simon Pagenaud will start 16th, his career worst starting position at Road America. Hunter-Reay had a stretch of five consecutive top five finishes last year from the Indianapolis 500 to Road America. He enters Road America this year with three consecutive top five finishes but it is the first time in his career he has three consecutive top five finishes but none of them have been podium finishes. Pagenaud has yet to finish on the podium at Road America in IndyCar but he does have two podium finishes at the track in the American Le Mans Series. He and Gil de Ferran were runner-up finishers in 2009 to the Highcroft Racing Acura of David Brabham and Scott Sharp. The following year, Pagenaud and de Ferran were third behind the #8 Lola-Judd of Paul Drayson and Jonny Cocker and the #6 Porsche RS Spyder of Klaus Graf and Timo Bernhard.

For the first time in IndyCar history we will have an all-Swedish row in an IndyCar race and it will be row nine with Marcus Ericsson starting ahead of Felix Rosenqvist, Ericsson has had some success on larger tracks. He won the 2012 GP2 feature race at Spa-Francorchamps and he finished second in the feature race at that track the following year. He shared that podium in 2013 with race winner Sam Bird and Alexander Rossi was the third place finisher. He also scored points at Spa-Francorchamps twice in five starts in Formula One. Rosenqvist could become the second Chip Ganassi Racing driver to score a first career victory on June 23rd. Alex Zanardi's maiden IndyCar victory happened on June 23, 1996 at Portland. Entering that Portland race, Zanardi's best finish was fourth and his average finish was 15.875. Rosenqvist enters Road America with his best finish being fourth and his average finish being 12.777. Of course, Zanardi won from pole position that day at Portland.

Jack Harvey and Matheus Leist round out the top twenty. Harvey could become the first Englishman to win an IndyCar race at Road America. The only British driver to win an IndyCar race at the track was Scotsman Dario Franchitti in 1998. Leist has finished outside the top fifteen in six of the first nine races. He had eight finishes outside the top fifteen in the 2018 season. Santino Ferrucci had his car stop on circuit during the first group of qualifying and he will start 21st. Ferrucci's fourth place finish at Texas a fortnight ago was his first top five finish since he was the third place finisher in the 2016 GP3 Series sprint race at Spa-Francorchamps. Max Chilton will start 22nd. This is the fourth time Chilton has started outside the top twenty this season. Four of Chilton's eight top ten finishes in his IndyCar career have come on a natural-terrain road course, including a ninth place finish at Road America in 2017.

Tony Kanaan will round out the grid in 23rd position. This is Kanaan's seventh start outside the top twenty this season. Kanaan has not had a top five finish in his last 29 starts. His previous longest drought between top five finishes was 27 from Belle Isle 1999 to Nazareth 2001. Road America is the location of his most recent top five finish on a natural-terrain road course. He was runner-up at Road America in 2016.

NBC's coverage of the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America will begin at 12:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 12:45 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 55 laps.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Track Walk: Road America 2019

IndyCar is back to a natural-terrain road course and it is Road America
The tenth round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season takes the circus to Road America, the longest track on the IndyCar schedule. This will be the 29th IndyCar race to take place at Road America and there have been eight different winners from the last eight races held at the 4.048-mile road course. Last year, Team Penske picked up its fifth Road America victory and second in three years. The team is halfway to Newman/Haas Racing's record of ten Road America victories. Through nine races in 2019, there have been six different winners, five different pole-sitters, eight different drivers to set fastest lap and seven different drivers to lead the most laps in a race.

Time: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday June 23rd with green flag scheduled for 12:50 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider Dillon Welch and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule 
First Practice: 12:05 p.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Second Practice: 4:00 p.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Third Practice: 11:00 a.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Qualifying: 4:00 p.m. ET (Taped-delayed coverage on NBCSN at 5:00 p.m. ET)
Race: 12:50 p.m. ET (55 laps)

* - All practice and qualifying sessions are available live with the NBC Sports Gold IndyCar pass.

Alexander Rossi Needs a Win
For the second consecutive year Alexander Rossi heads to Road America second in the championship and within touching distance of the championship lead but Road America has not been kind to Rossi in his first three attempts.

Rossi's average finish is 14.667 with finishes of 15th, 13th and 16th. Last year, he started fourth but in his first two attempts he started on the eighth row.

It is not that Rossi has not had good races. In 2017, while he started toward the back, Rossi employed a four-stop strategy and it appeared it would result in a top five finish but then he suffered wing damage on a restart and took away a good finish. In last year's race, Rossi was in contention for a podium finish before he was forced to make a pit stop when the left front chamber shims fell out and that relegated him to 16th.

Road America is one of three tracks Rossi has multiple starts at but has not lead a lap at with the others being Sonoma, which is no longer on the schedule, and Toronto.

Rossi has three runner-up finishes in the last four races. Before this season Rossi had only two runner-up finishes in his entire IndyCar career. While Rossi has not been in IndyCar long, he has never had multiple victories in the first ten races of a season.

The biggest reason Rossi needs a victory is because the man ahead of him in the championship, Josef Newgarden, has won two of the last three races, and the man behind him in the championship, Simon Pagenaud has won twice since Rossi's lone victory this season at Long Beach. On top of all of it, all three of Rossi's runner-up finishes have been to either Newgarden or Pagenaud.

While Road America has not been kind to Rossi, Newgarden has found great success in the last three years. The Tennessean went from 20th to eighth in 2016 with a broken clavicle and wrist. In 2017, he started third and finished second. Last year, he won from pole position and led 53 of 55 laps.

The only track Newgarden has won at in consecutive years is Barber in 2017 and 2018 and the only time he has won consecutive races was in 2017 when he won at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, which was also apart of a period of three victories in four races.

Pagenaud has finished in the top ten the last two years at Road America but he has only led two laps in his four starts at the track and his best starting position and his best finishing position at the track is fourth.

Will Power Needs a Win
For the second time in Will Power's IndyCar career Power heads into the tenth race of the season without a victory. The only other time Power has not had a victory at this point of the season was in 2013. That year he had only one podium finish in the first nine races and that was a third at Milwaukee in the ninth race. His best finish this season is third, which occurred at St. Petersburg and the second Belle Isle race.

On top of all that, both of Power's teammates have won multiple races this season. Power has only been the top Penske finisher in one of the first nine races. Since the start of the DW12-era in 2012, Power has won 20 races but only six of those victories have come on natural-terrain road course races and three of those six victories were the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The other three victories came at Barber in 2012, Sonoma in 2013 and at Road America in 2016.

Power has been sixth in the championship after the last six races.

Ryan Hunter-Reay Needs a Win
While Ryan Hunter-Reay has won more recently than Will Power, like Power, if he wants to keep his championship hopes alive he will need a victory and last year, Hunter-Reay was on Newgarden's heels for the entire Road America race but was unable to pass Newgarden on the track and he was unable to jump ahead of him through pit strategy.

For the last two seasons, Hunter-Reay has been very consistent. Last year, he had seven top five finishes through the first nine races. This year, he only had five top five finishes but he has seven top ten finishes. His only retirement from the first nine races was his engine failure at the St. Petersburg season opener.

In five Road America starts, Hunter-Reay has three top five finishes and four top ten finishes. Last year was his first podium finish at the track. Hunter-Reay has also started in the top ten four times at the track but he has never led a lap at the track.

Hunter-Reay has been the top Andretti Autosport finisher twice this season with the first time being at Austin when Hunter-Reay finished third after Rossi was shuffled back because his final stop had to make a pit stop after caution. In the second Belle Isle race, Hunter-Reay finished fourth, one position ahead of Rossi, who spun in the race, which allowed Hunter-Reay to get ahead of his teammate.

Graham Rahal's Throwback
There will be a familiar look for a familiar name this weekend as Graham Rahal's #15 GEHL Honda will sport the livery of his father Bobby's 1994 Miller Genuine Draft livery. This livery is also in honor of Honda's 25 seasons in IndyCar.

Bobby Rahal used Honda engines in 15 of 16 races in that 1994 season. The one race Rahal did not use a Honda engine was the Indianapolis 500 when he used an Ilmor engine and finished third. However, Rahal's best finish that season came with a Honda engine and it was a runner-up finish at Toronto.

Bobby Rahal has made 17 Road America starts, tied for the second most all-time with Al Unser, Jr. and behind only Michael Andretti, but despite Rahal's terrific record of 10 top five finishes, 15 top ten finishes at the track and 13 lead lap finishes, records in all categories, he never won at Road America.  Rahal had six podium finishes at Road America with runner-up finishes in 1984, 1988 and 1996.

Graham has continued the strong results for the Rahal family at Elkhart Lake. In four starts, Graham Rahal has two podium finishes and two top ten finishes. He has started in the top six on three occasions with his worst starting position being ninth. He has only led two laps at the track. Rahal is coming off a third place finish at Texas, his first podium finish in over a year. He has not had a podium finish on a road/street course since Mid-Ohio in 2017 and he has not had consecutive podium finishes since he swept the Belle Isle doubleheader in 2017.

Rahal is eighth in the championship and his championship position has improved after each of the last three races.

Can Scott Dixon Make a Championship Comeback?
It is the start of another summer and this is when Scott Dixon finds another level. Twenty-five of Dixon's 45 victories have come during summer, of those 25 victories, 13 have come between the first day of summer and the end of July.

Dixon has won five championships before but this year he heads into the final eight races fourth in the championship and 89 points behind Newgarden.

How does this deficit compare to Dixon's previous five championship seasons with eight races to go?

In three of Dixon's five championship seasons he was not the championship leader with eight races to go. During his first championship season in 2003, Dixon was second in the championship, 31 points behind Tony Kanaan for the championship lead with eight races to go. Dixon did not win any of the final eight races that year but he had five runner-up finishes. He took over the championship lead after Michigan with six races to go but lost it after the next race at Gateway, falling to fourth. Dixon did not retake the championship lead until after the penultimate round at Fontana.

In 2008, Dixon took the championship lead after winning the Indianapolis 500, his fifth start of the season. He would lead the championship all the way through Chicagoland but his gap went from +43 points with eight races to go after Richmond to a championship margin of 17 points over Hélio Castroneves after Chicagoland.

Five years later, Dixon entered the final eight races fresh off his victory at Pocono but he was fourth in the championship, 65 points behind Castroneves. Dixon would sweep the Toronto doubleheader the following weekend and jump up to second. Dixon would not take the championship lead until the penultimate race at Houston. He entered that doubleheader weekend trailing Castroneves by 49 points but turned into an eight-point advantage heading into the season finale at Fontana. Dixon would go on to win the championship by 27 points over Castroneves.

Juan Pablo Montoya famously never trailed in the 2015 championship and with eight races to go, Montoya had a 63-point advantage over Dixon in third. Dixon was third in the championship from the sixth race of the season at the Indianapolis 500 all the way through the penultimate race at Pocono. Dixon entered the final race trailing Montoya by 47 points but in the double points paying finale Dixon won the race and led the most laps while Montoya finished sixth. This left the two drivers level on points but Dixon's three victories to Montoya's two victories won him the title on tiebreaker.

While Dixon has won the championship while being fourth with eight races to go, he has never had to overcome a deficit as large as the one he currently holds. Since 1979, there have been 21 previous occasions where a champion was trailing with eight races to go but the largest deficit overcame with eight races to go was 75 points by Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and on only two other occasions was the eventual champion trailing by more than 50 points with eight races to go. Greg Ray overcame a 70-point margin to win the title in 1999 and Sam Hornish, Jr. was 61 points behind the championship leader entering the final eight races in 2002.

The Rest of the Field
Graham Rahal has a respectable track record at Road America but his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Takuma Sato has not had the same type of success. Sato finished fourth last year after starting seventh but in Sato's previous two starts at the track he has started 15th or worse on each occasion his finishes were outside the top fifteen and off the lead lap.

Both Dale Coyne Racing drivers are in the top ten of the championship and Sébastien Bourdais won at Road America in 2006. In his last two starts at the track he has failed to finish in the top ten each time. This will be Santino Ferrucci's first trip to Road America. Dale Coyne Racing has never had a top five finish at Road America with the team's best finish coming in 2004 when Oriol Servià finished sixth.

James Hinchcliffe heads to Road America without a top five finish in his last 14 starts. Hinchcliffe has one top ten finish in his last five starts. Last year, Hinchcliffe finished tenth at Road America, his best career finish in three starts and his best starting position at the track is ninth. Marcus Ericsson has been the top Schmidt Peterson Motorsports finisher in the last two races and he will make his Road America debut this weekend.

As for the other rookie drivers, Felix Rosenqvist has one top ten finish in his last four starts while Colton Herta has an average finish of 20.714 in his last seven starts and Patricio O'Ward returns in the #31 Chevrolet for Carlin. Herta had three consecutive podium finishes at Road America in Indy Lights with him winning the first race at last year's weekend. O'Ward made four starts at the track between Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. He had finished in fourth position three times and he was runner-up to Herta in the first Indy Lights race last year. O'Ward did win at Road America in IMSA's Prototype Challenge class in 2017.

Road to Indy
For the third time this season, all three Road to Indy series are together and every series is back on track after a month off. The last time we saw the three divisions they were all contesting ovals in the greater Indianapolis-area.

There are still 11 races remaining in the Indy Lights season and Freedom 100 winner Oliver Askew has an 11-point lead over Rinus VeeKay. Askew defeated Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Norman   by 0.0067 seconds to win the Freedom 100 nearly a month ago. It was Askew's third victory of the season after sweeping the Austin weekend and it was his fifth consecutive podium finish.

VeeKay has won twice and he has finished in the top five in all seven races this season. Askew's teammate Robert Megennis is 44 points back with Toby Sowery 53 points back and Norman rounding out the top five, 60 points behind Askew.

Between U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda, Askew's four finishes at Road America are 17th, third, ninth and eighth while VeeKay swept the U.S. F2000 races there in 2017 and he was fifth in both Pro Mazda races last year. Megennis has never finished better than seventh in six Road to Indy starts at the track. Sowery ran both Pro Mazda races last year and he finished second in both races. Norman has two top five finishes in four starts at Road America.

David Malukas swept the Pro Mazda races at this track last year. Aaron Telitz will be back in the #4 Belardi Auto Racing Mazda this weekend and he swept the 2016 Pro Mazda races at his home track and he finished third in the second Indy Lights race last year.

Lucas Kohl and Dalton Kellett round out the nine-car entry list for Indy Lights.

Indy Lights will race at 2:50 p.m. ET on Saturday June 22nd and 9:50 a.m. ET on Sunday June 23rd.

Rasmus Lindh continues to lead the Indy Pro 2000 championship but Daniel Frost cut the gap to nine points after Frost won the Freedom 90 at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Lindh sits on 142 points to Frost's 133 points. Both drivers have four podium finishes from the first five races with their worst finish being fourth.

Sting Ray Robb has finished in the top five of all five races with three trips to the podium including runner-up finishes in the last two races. Robb is 21 points behind Lindh. Parker Thompson had a rough Freedom 90 finishing tenth and he is 27 points behind Lindh. Kyle Kirkwood rounds out the top five on 97 points.

Kirkwood swept the U.S. F2000 races at this track in 2018 with Lindh finishing fourth and 18th in the two races. Thompson has made six Road to Indy starts at Road America and he has finished in the top five in all six races but his only trip to the podium was the second U.S. F2000 race in 2016 when he finished third. Robb has finishes of fourth, 11th, 11th and ninth in four starts.

There are 13 cars entered this weekend in Indy Pro 2000.

Pro Mazda's first race will be at 1:55 p.m. ET on Saturday June 22nd with race two scheduled for 11:05 a.m. ET on Sunday June 23rd.

After winning the first four races of the season, Braden Eves finished fifth in the Freedom 75 from Indianapolis Raceway Park but he did extend his championship lead to 44 points over Hunter McElrea, who finished 11th in the only oval race on the U.S. F2000 schedule.

Darren Keane still has only one podium finish this season but he is up to third in the championship, though he trails Eves by 67 points. Keane and Cameron Kaminsky are tied on 86 points but Keane holds the tiebreaker with his best finish being second in the second race on the IMS road course and Kaminsky's best finish was third in the Freedom 75.

Alex Baron is a point behind Keane and Kaminsky and Freedom 75 winner Cameron Shields is two points back on 84 points. Manuel Sulaimán has dropped to seventh in the championship on 83 points.

Eighteen cars are entered for the U.S. F2000 weekend from Road America. Notable names include Christian Rasmussen, Eduardo Barrichello and Jack William Miller, who all ran at Road America last year in Formula 4. Wisconsin-native Yuven Sundaramoorthy will also be contesting this weekend's races.

The first U.S. F2000 race will be at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday June 22nd and the second race will be at 9:00 a.m. ET on Sunday June 23rd.

Fast Facts
This will be the 11th IndyCar race to take place on June 23rd and the last IndyCar race to take place on June 23rd was in 2013 and James Hinchcliffe won that race at Iowa.

Michael Andretti won on June 23, 1991 at Portland.

This year's Road America race falls on the 23rd anniversary of Alex Zanardi's first career IndyCar victory, which occurred at Portland.

Seven drivers have picked up their first career victory at Road America. Those drivers were Héctor Rebaque, Jacques Villeneuve, brother of Gilles Villeneuve; Jacques Villeneuve, son of Gilles Villeneuve, Dario Franchitti, Christian Fittipaldi, Bruno Junqueira and Alex Tagliani.

Josef Newgarden could became the fourth driver to win consecutive Road America races joining Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve.

American drivers have not won consecutive Road America races since Danny Sullivan won in 1989 and Michael Andretti went on to win the following two years.

The average starting position for a Road America winner is 3.571 with a median of three.

The pole-sitter has won three of the last four Road America races.

The only time the Road America winner started outside the top ten was in 2004 when Alex Tagliani won from 13th.

The last ten IndyCar races have been won from inside a top ten starting position.

The average number of lead changes in a Road America race is 4.074 with a median of four.

The final lead change has come in the final ten laps of a Road America race on 11 occasions.

There have been three Road America races decided on a last lap pass. Héctor Rebaque won the first race in 1982 after Al Unser ran out of fuel on the final lap. The same thing happened in 1989 but this time Danny Sullivan took the victory while Michael Andretti ran out of fuel. Seven years later, Al Unser, Jr. lost an engine on the final lap and that allowed Michael Andretti to get the victory.

The average number of cautions in a Road America race is 2.111 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 6.777 with a median of five.

Last year's caution-free race was the tenth Road America race not to have a caution and first since 2000.

On three previous occasions there has been consecutive caution-free races at Road America.

The last track to have consecutive caution-free races was Mid-Ohio in 2012 and 2013.

Last year's Road America race was the third fastest in the track's history at 132.101 MPH behind 1999 (137.697 MPH) and 2000 (136.457 MPH).

Possible Milestones:
If Tony Kanaan takes the green flag he will make his 370th start, moving him into second all-time for  starts in IndyCar history.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 2,700 laps led milestone.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead 55 laps to reach the 1,600 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 44 laps to reach the 800 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 53 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 16 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

I think this could be the season we remember for the head-to-head battle between Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi and the start of a decade-long rivalry and I think we will see these two driver go at it again at Road America. I think Rossi takes the victory but Newgarden finishes second. At least five American drivers finish in the top ten. At least one driver in the top five of the championship does not make it out of the first round of qualifying. There will be at least three different leaders in this race. Sleeper: Marcus Ericsson.