Friday, August 30, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: August 2019

I have to admit this is a sparse edition of This Month in Motorsports Headlines and all I can put my finger on for being the reason is the number of summer breaks. Formula One had a summer break. MotoGP had a summer break. IndyCar had a summer break. NASCAR took its final week off in August. With time off there are fewer headlines to write. People aren't gathering in paddocks and chatting about, which means less chance for something to get out. That will surely change in September.

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.

Though Formula One was off, most of the headlines are from Formula One and that is where we will start...

Verstappen "the best driver out there" - Rosberg
Don't get me wrong, Max Verstappen has been having an impressive season and he has put up some impressive drives in his career but Nico Rosberg knows what he is doing.

Verstappen is going to have to beat Lewis Hamilton for the World Drivers' Championship though before he can claim that crown. I know the car plays a role and Hamilton may have the better race car but it isn't a case of Verstappen being hampered with a sled when he has won two races this season and is the only non-Mercedes driver to win in 2019.

Rosberg did run against Verstappen for two years. He knows what it is like to race again Verstappen, as well as Hamilton, but Verstappen was not a regular challenger for Rosberg. In fact, looking back to the 2016, Rosberg's final year and when Verstappen joined Red Bull, Verstappen had seven podium finishes and he finished ahead of Rosberg in five of those seven races. One of those races was the Spanish Grand Prix, Verstappen's first career victory after Rosberg and Hamilton collided on lap one and the other is Austria, where Rosberg collided with Hamilton again and dropped from leading to fourth on the final lap due to damage but the other three are races where Verstappen finished ahead of Rosberg straight up.

It should also be noted in three of those podium finishes where Verstappen was ahead of Rosberg Hamilton won.

Rosberg is sticking it to his former teammate once again and in a way Rosberg is delegitimizing his own success. If Rosberg believes Hamilton has the benefit of the superior car on the grid than Rosberg as well had his results inflated simply because of the car he was driving and even after all that Rosberg still regularly finished behind Hamilton.

Just when Rosberg thought he was throwing shade he ended up burning himself. What a schmuck.

Wolff: Too early for Russell to move to Mercedes
And apparently it was too early for Esteban Ocon to move to Mercedes as well.

I don't think anyone was thinking Russell was in play to take the second Mercedes seat in 2020 but after this belief that there was an order of succession, starting with Ocon replacing Bottas, it does appear things will not be as straight forward and Russell likely may never end up at Mercedes.

Hamilton is closing in on the all-time record for grand prix victories and his sixth title is destined to come this season. He is 34 years old and will turn 35 years old next January. Hamilton is not going to do this forever. I think he will retire early than hold on too long. Perhaps 2020 will be his final season, where he will likely surpass Michael Schumacher's 91 grand prix victories and could equal Schumacher's seven World Drivers' Championships but I don't think Hamilton is walking away anytime soon. Hamilton loves racing too much to think he would walk away at the end of 2020.

With Valtteri Bottas confirmed for 2020, I think Mercedes' driver lineup is not only set through 2020 but into the 2021 season. It makes more sense for Mercedes to retain the same driver lineup heading into the introduction of new technical regulations than to head into 2021 with one new driver or two new drivers.

By the time 2022 rolls around Formula One may have moved on from George Russell and if that is the next time a driver change will happen at Mercedes a name we aren't even talking about could be waiting in the wings to slide into the Silver Arrows.

McLaren F1 driver Carlos Sainz says 'the big teams just spend too much money'
And these teams can always save money in the form of cutting the drivers' salaries.

Be careful what you wish for Carlos!

We have been over this for decades. Formula One has no interest in controlling spending or capping spending and the teams don't want it either, even if it would save them from themselves. If Sainz wants to go to a series where teams cannot spend too much, go to touring cars, go to IndyCar, go to NASCAR. There are plenty of other options out there.

Rich Energy to decide of Haas deal before Singapore
How is this still going on? And I don't think it is Rich Energy's to decide.

Haas would be stupid not to get out of this relationship. I thought this relationship was already dead!

Haas cannot have Rich Energy hanging around into 2020. The team has to move on.

Granted, Rich Energy is likely to collapse as a company at any moment but the quicker Haas can distance itself from Rich Energy the better.

We have one sports car headline this month...

Why Toyota won't win every WEC race this season
Equivalence of Technology and success ballast.

I am sure the World Endurance Championship doesn't want Toyota sweeping a season and basically sweeping two consecutive seasons. Yes, Rebellion Racing won Silverstone last year after the disqualification of both Toyotas but we all saw what happened on the road and arguably Toyota beat itself that day.

The FIA and ACO want to head into the hypercar-era with the illusion other manufactures can win. Saddling the Toyota with the weight of a manatee for one race to allow Rebellion Racing or a Team LNT Ginetta take victory is fine with the WEC.

Toyota is still going to win five or six races. It just needs that one race to hold up to future participants that anything can happen.

We will close with NASCAR and we will start with a driver that once drove for Toyota...

Stewart: 'I really want to run this race as a driver one day myself'
That race is the Eldora Truck race and why don't you Tony Stewart? Nothing is stopping you.

I can understand the first two or three races standing on the sidelines and making sure everything goes well as a track promoter but we have run the Eldora Truck race seven times now. I think the track has this under control, I think the track doesn't have to worry about NASCAR bolting and I think Stewart should be able to have enough people to manage an event that he doesn't have to oversee the entire production. After all, Stewart still races on a regular basis. He can't be at every event held at Eldora. There must be a group of people he has confidence in to run an event that he doesn't have to always be at the track.

It is time for Stewart zip it and just race. He has this tendency with races. How many times have we heard him say how much he wants to run the Indianapolis 500 again only for him to back out over his fear of not being competitive? It seems like it happens every other year. It happened around this time last year.

The Eldora Truck race is no different. Stop talking about how much you want to do an event and do it and if you don't do it than stop talking about wanting to do it.

I think 2020 is the time for Stewart. What else is he waiting for? Life is too short.

NASCAR will not punish retaliatory acts from Watkins Glen
Remember when Johnny Sauter ran down Austin Hill and spun him under caution in the Iowa Truck race? That led to a suspension for Sauter.

William Byron runs down and hits Kyle Busch from behind under caution at Watkins Glen and Darrell Wallace, Jr. spins Kyle Busch out under caution at Watkins Glen. Neither Byron nor Wallace, Jr. received a penalty.

I don't think the players involved had anything to do it with it. However, I think it being the Cup Series is the reason.

I think we just want NASCAR to call it both ways. Don't dish out penalties in one series and not in the other for similar behavior. Did what Byron and Wallace, Jr. do deserve suspensions? Probably not. An argument could be made for Byron and Wallace, Jr.'s action was not as malicious as Sauter's but for there to be no penalty whatsoever for either driver is where NASCAR gets it wrong.

There should have been something, whether it be a two-lap penalty in the race, being parked from the race, a hefty points penalty or fine, there had to be something and NASCAR chose to do nothing at its highest level.

It doesn't surprise me but it still disappoints me.

Chase Elliott's dominant victory 'couldn't come at a better time'
Yes it could have. It could have come at Homestead when Elliott was one of the final four drivers eligible for the championship. That would be a much better time.

That is it for August and the next time we reconvene to go over the news it will be autumn, the IndyCar season will be over and many other championships will be entering their final legs but not the World Endurance Championship; that will still have only completed one race. This is a sad time but the one thing picking me up is soon it will turn around and I will start to get excited for what will come in the New Year.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Track Walk: Portland 2019

Portland plays pivotal role in penultimate 2019 IndyCar championship battle
The 16th and penultimate round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season takes IndyCar back to Portland for Labor Day weekend. This will be the 26th Grand Prix of Portland. There have been four different winners from four different teams in the last four Portland races. In 2019, there have been six different winners from four different teams in the last six races. Chevrolet enters with eight victories to Honda's seven. Last year was the first time Honda won the most races in a season amongst the manufactures in the DW12-era. Honda needs to win the final two races to retain that honor for the second consecutive season.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday September 1st with green flag scheduled for 3:40 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Dillon Welch and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule 
First Practice: 1:50 p.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Second Practice: 5:40 p.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Third Practice: 2:00 p.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Qualifying: 6:00 p.m. ET (Live coverage on NBCSN)
Race: 3:40 p.m. ET (105 laps)

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

Championship Plot Thickens
With two races remaining only 158 points are left on the table and that leaves five drivers mathematically alive for the championship heading into Portland.

Josef Newgarden extended his championship lead to 38 points after Gateway with Simon Pagenaud sliding up to second with Alexander Rossi dropping to third, 46 points behind Newgarden. Scott Dixon's retirement at Gateway leaves him 70 points behind Newgarden. Will Power is 147 points back of his Team Penske teammate; however, Newgarden will eliminate Power for the championship simply by starting the Grand Prix of Portland.

Newgarden cannot clinch the title at Portland. At least he and Pagenaud will be alive for the title heading to Laguna Seca. Currently, there are 24 cars announced for the Laguna Seca finally, meaning the most points that can be gained in that race would be 92 points. If a 25th car were announced, the most points that could be gained would be 94 points.

With 23 cars entered for Portland, the largest Newgarden's championship lead could be if he scores maximum points and Pagenaud scored the fewest points possible is 86 points.

Rossi could be eliminated from championship contention this weekend. If Newgarden scores maximum points and Rossi scores the fewest points possible, Newgarden's championship lead over Rossi would be 94 points. If only 24 cars start at Laguna Seca, Rossi would be eliminated. If 25 cars start at Laguna Seca and Rossi is 94 points behind Newgarden, Rossi would be eliminated from championship contention because Newgarden would own the tiebreaker with more victories than Rossi.

Dixon is in the most precarious position to be eliminated from championship contention. He is only 22-24 points to the good. If Newgarden were to score maximum points at Portland, Dixon would have to score at least 33 points to stay alive, which could be achieved simply with a finish of fourth or better or fifth with at least one bonus point for leading a lap or winning pole position.

Heading into the penultimate race of 2019, Newgarden has four victories to Pagenaud's three victories to Rossi's two victories to Dixon's two victories.

In terms of second place finishes, Dixon leads the way with six runner-up finishes to Rossi's four runner-up finishes to Newgarden's two runner-up finishes and Pagenaud has not finished second this season.

When it comes to third place finishes, all four drivers have finished in third place once in 2019! Dixon was third at Long Beach, Newgarden was third at Road America, Rossi was third at Toronto and Pagenaud was third at Pocono.

If Pagenaud wins the final two races and scores maximum points in each and Newgarden finishes second in both races but scores no bonus points in either race, the two drivers would end up tied on 683 points with Pagenaud winning the title on tiebreaker with five victories to Newgarden's four victories.

If Rossi wins the final two races and scores maximum points in each and Newgarden finishes second in both races but scores no bonus points in either race, Newgarden would win the title by eight points over Rossi.

Sato's Quest For the Double Back-to-Back
Takuma Sato is on path for a career year and Sato returns to the launch pad where this tremendous 2019 season took lift off in 2018.

Sato's victory at Gateway last week was the first time he has had multiple victories in a season. His victory last week was his fourth podium finish of 2019. Prior to this season he had never had more than two podium finishes in a season. He has four top five finishes and this is the third consecutive season he has had at least four top five finishes.

Sato has two pole positions and the only other season he had multiple pole position was his sophomore year in 2011 when he won pole position at Iowa and Edmonton. With the 61 laps led at Gateway, Sato has led 200 laps in 2019, the most laps he has led in a single-season.

Bigger than the results on track, Sato has himself sixth in the championship on 382 points. He is 14 points ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, 36 points ahead of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Graham Rahal and 56 points ahead of Santino Ferrucci. Sato's best championship finish was eighth in 2017.

Sato picked up consecutive podium finishes for only the second time in his IndyCar earlier this season when he finished third in the Indianapolis 500 and finished third in the first Belle Isle race. The other occurrence was when he won at Long Beach in 2013 and finished second at São Paulo in the following race.

Sato is not only going for consecutive race victories in 2019 but also consecutive Portland victories. Last year, with a bit of fortunate in the form of cautions falling after his pit stops, he won from 20th position in the first Portland race since 2007. He led 25 of 105 laps in last year's race with all 25 laps led coming in the final 35 laps. It is the only time Sato has won a race when starting outside the top five in his IndyCar career.

If Sato were to win at Portland, he would become only the fifth driver to win consecutive Portland races joining Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti (who won three consecutive years from 1990-92), Al Unser, Jr. and Gil de Ferran.

While Sato is having a career year, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has won two races in a season for the third time since 2015. The team has not had three victories in a season since Buddy Rice won at Indianapolis, Kansas and Michigan in 2004. The most victories for RLLR in a season is six, which came in 2001 with Max Papis and Kenny Bräck and that included a Portland victory at the hands of Papis.

With Graham Rahal sitting eighth in the championship, RLLR is set up to have multiple drivers in the top ten of the championship for the first time since 2004 when Rice finished third and Vitor Meira finished eighth in the championship despite missing the first two races.

Rookie of the Year Battle
As mentioned above, Santino Ferrucci is ninth in the championship on 326 points and Ferrucci is leading the Rookie of the Year standings but it is tight at the top.

Felix Rosenqvist had been the top rookie after the previous five races but he is now top in points behind Ferrucci and Rosenqvist rounds out the top ten in the overall championship. Prior to Gateway, the only times Ferrucci has been the top rookie in the championship were after the Indianapolis 500 and Texas.

Colton Herta was the top rookie after Austin, Barber and Long Beach but he has dropped to third amongst the rookies and he is 14th overall in the championship on 282 points, 44 points behind Ferrucci. Marcus Ericsson is 17th in the championship, 74 points behind Ferrucci.

While Ferrucci was the cream of the crop of the rookies on ovals with three top five finishes, four top ten finishes and an average finish of 6.2 and he scored the fourth most oval points, 170 points, behind only Pagenaud, Newgarden and Rossi, the road courses results have not been as stellar.

Ferrucci's average finish in ten road and street course races is 14.6 with an average starting position of 16.2 and he has made it out of the first round of qualifying only once when he started tenth at Barber. Ferrucci has not been the top rookie finisher in any of the ten road and street course races in 2019.

Rosenqvist has an average finish of 8.8 in the ten road and street course races and he is coming off a runner-up finish at Mid-Ohio last time out. He has four top five finishes and eight top ten finishes from the ten twisty races in 2019. He has started in the top ten in seven of those races and he has advanced to the second round of qualifying on six of eight occasions with Fast Six appearances on five occasions. The only drivers to make the Fast Six more than Rosenqvist are Dixon, Power and Rossi, who have all made six appearances, and Newgarden is level with Rosenqvist having made the Fast Six at five races.

After a rough spring, Herta has turned it around and he has three consecutive top ten finishes on road and street circuits and Herta has made it out of the first round of qualifying on seven of eight occasions with the lone exception being at Toronto, where he started 16th. Herta has the fifth best average starting position in 2019 at 7.7857 behind only Newgarden, Rossi, Dixon and Power.

Marcus Ericsson will miss the Portland race due to reserve driver commitments for Alfa Romeo Racing at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps. Conor Daly will substitute for Ericsson in the #7 Arrow Honda at Portland. Ericsson has two finishes in the top ten on road and street courses with finishes seventh at Barber and second in the second Belle Isle race.

Loose Ends
Will Power is coming off his sixth finish outside the top ten in 2019 and his second results outside the top twenty this season. Power enters Portland fifth in the championship, 34 points ahead of Sato. Power has finished in the top five of the championship in nine consecutive seasons. In three Portland starts, Power has finishes of 18th, fourth and 21st.

Ryan Hunter-Reay sits seventh in the championship and he was the runner-up finish last year at Portland. It was the first time Hunter-Reay has finished in the top ten in Portland in four starts. His previous best result was 12th in 2004. Hunter-Reay has finished in the top five in the 16th race of the season the last four years but he has never won the 16th race of the season.

James Hinchcliffe sits eight points outside the top ten of the championship. Hinchcliffe has finished outside the top ten in three consecutive races. Hinchcliffe has made 11 starts in his career in the month of September. The only time Hinchcliffe has finished in the top ten in the month of September was when he finished seventh at Baltimore in 2013. His average finish in September races is 16.727.

Sébastien Bourdais is four points behind Hinchcliffe in 12th in the championship. Bourdais has five consecutive podium finishes at Portland and he has two victories. He could tie Michael Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. for the record of most Portland victories. Bourdais is 14 points behind his teammate Ferrucci in the championship. The only time Bourdais has run and full season and finished behind a teammate in the championship was his rookie season with Newman/Haasin Racing in 2003 when Bruno Junqueira was second in the championship to Paul Tracy and Bourdais was fourth.

Tony Kanaan is coming off his first podium finish since 2015 after he was third at Gateway. Kanaan has yet to finish in the top ten on a road or street course this season with his best result being 12th at Austin. He has two top ten finishes at Portland, a fourth in 1998 and an eighth in 2002. Kanaan's active streak of 315 consecutive starts began at Portland in 2001.

Jack Harvey is back for his ninth race of 2019 with Meyer Shank Racing. This is the first time MSR and Harvey will be at the track since Mid-Ohio. The team has four top ten finishes in eight starts this season, which includes a third place finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May. Prior to this season, Harvey's best finish was 12th. Harvey has advanced to the second round of qualifying on four of seven occasions in 2019.

Road to Indy
This is the penultimate weekend for all three Road to Indy series as well and none of these championships have been decided.

Oliver Askew has won five consecutive races and with the Andretti Autosport driver sitting on 395 points and a 52-point advantage over Juncos Racing's Rinus VeeKay there is a chance Askew could lock up the championship this weekend.

If Askew exits Portland with a 64-point lead or more he will clinch the 2019 Indy Lights championship. If he has a championship lead of 38 points or more after Portland all he will have to do is show up and start the final two races of the season at Laguna Seca.

Askew won last year at Portland in Pro Mazda and he finished third in the second Pro Mazda race from Portland. VeeKay was runner-up in both Pro Mazda races last year at Portland.

Ryan Norman is third in the championship on 295 points, 20 points ahead of Andretti teammate Robert Megennis and Toby Sowery rounds out the top five on 270 points. All three drivers are mathematically still alive for the championship.

David Malukas was the third place finisher at Gateway and he has 242 points, putting him sixth in the championship. Malukas won the second Pro Mazda race at Portland last year. Dalton Kellett is seventh on 213 points with Lucas Kohl on 200 points.

Indy Lights will race at 4:50 p.m. ET on Saturday August 31st and at 12:35 p.m. ET on Sunday September 1st.

The Indy Pro 2000 championship is down to single-digit points between Rasmus Lindh and Kyle Kirkwood. Kirkwood has won four consecutive races and six of the last seven to narrow the deficit to six points behind him and Lindh. Lindh has finished on the podium in six consecutive races and he has not finished worse than fourth this season.

Kirkwood swept the U.S. F2000 races last year at Portland and Lindh was fourth and second in those two races.

Parker Thompson is third in the Indy Pro 2000 championship on 259 points, 64 points behind Lindh. Daniel Frost is five points behind Thompson and Sting Ray Robb rounds out the top five with 241 points. These three drivers are mathematically alive for the Indy Pro 2000 championship.

The first Indy Pro 2000 race of the weekend will be at 8:25 p.m. ET on Saturday August 31st with the second race of the weekend scheduled for 6:10 p.m. ET on Sunday September 1st.

U.S. F2000 has been off since Mid-Ohio and that championship took a dramatic turn during the month of July.

Braden Eves' championship lead is down to nine points over Hunter McElrea. Eves has failed to finish on the podium in the last four races and he finished outside the top five in each Mid-Ohio race while McElrea has three podium finishes in the last four races, including a runner-up finish and a victory at Mid-Ohio.

Darren Keane is third in the championship on 207 points, 53 points behind Eves. Keane had finishes of ninth and sixth at Mid-Ohio but prior to that he had three consecutive podium finishes. Colin Kaminsky is fourth on 199 points after a pair of third place finishes at Mid-Ohio and Christian Rasmussen rounds out the top five on 198 points after finishes of second, first, first and second in the last four races.

Manuel Sulaimán, Cameron Shields, Bruna Tomaselli and Jak Crawford are all mathematically eligible for the U.S. F2000 title entering Portland but all four drivers are 99 or more points behind Eves.

U.S. F2000's first race will be at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday August 31st with the second race at 7:15 p.m. ET on Sunday September 1st.

Fast Facts
This is going to be the 18th IndyCar race on September 1st and first since Simon Pagenaud won at Baltimore in 2013.

Michael Andretti won twice on September 1st, in 1991 and 1996, with both victories at Vancouver.

The last three races held on September 1st have been won from pole position by Andretti in 1991, second by Andretti in 1996 and third by Pagenaud in 2013.

Bobby Rahal won on September 1, 1985 at Mid-Ohio. It was the sixth victory of his career. Graham Rahal enters Portland with six career victories.

The average starting position for a Portland winner is 4.16 with a median of third.

Last year, Takuma Sato's victory from 20th was only the second time a Portland winner has started outside the top ten. The other winner that started outside the top ten was Mark Blundell from 11th in 1997.

Sato's victory last year was only the fifth time the Portland winner started outside the top ten.

Twenty of 25 Portland races have been won from a top five starting position.

The pole-sitter has not won the last three Portland races. The longest stretch without a pole-sitter winning at Portland is five races, which occurred from 1989-93.

The last two IndyCar races have been won from fifth position. The last time the same starting position produced three consecutive winners was last year when Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden and Will Power all won from pole position at Long Beach, Barber and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

This is the first time the fifth starting position has produced consecutive winners since 2006 when A.J. Allmendinger won at Road America and Nelson Philippe won at Surfers Paradise. It was the final victory for both drivers in their IndyCar careers.

Fifth starting position produced consecutive winners in 2005 when Bruno Junqueira won at Monterrey and Paul Tracy won at Milwaukee. It was the final victory of Junqueira's career and the antepenultimate victory of Tracy's career.

In 1965, five consecutive races were won from fifth starting position with Johnny Rutherford picking up his first career victory at Atlanta, Jim McElreath getting his third of five career victories at Langhorne, Joe Leonard getting this first career victory at Milwaukee, A.J. Foyt winning at Springfield and Gordon Johncock getting his first career victory at Milwaukee.

Fifth starting position produced three consecutive winners with A.J. Foyt winning at Sacramento in the penultimate race in 1964, Lloyd Ruby winning the final race at Phoenix and Don Branson winning the 1965 season opener from Phoenix.

Tony Bettenhausen won consecutive races in 1951 from fifth starting position at Milwaukee and Langhorne.

That concludes every time fifth starting position has won consecutive races in IndyCar history since the conclusion of World War II.

The only time a Portland winner started fifth was with Alex Zanardi in 1998.

The average number of lead changes in a Portland race is 5.68 with a median of five.

Last year's race had nine lead changes, tying the 1988 race for most lead changes in a Portland race.

The average number of cautions in a Portland race is 6.52 with a median of seven. The average number of caution laps is 7.48 with a median of five.

Possible Milestones:
Will Power is one podium finishes away from 75 podium finishes.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 47 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 24 laps to reach the 800 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 12 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Alexander Rossi wins this race because he has to win this race to get himself back into a great position in the championship fight heading to Laguna Seca. Josef Newgarnen will finish in the top five and finish ahead of Simon Pagenaud. Scott Dixon does not get into a lap one accident nor does he get a pit lane speeding penalty and he will finish ahead of Ed Jones in this race. James Hinchcliffe gets a top ten finish. A.J. Foyt Racing has one car qualify in the top 14. Max Chilton qualifies ahead of Charlie Kimball. Sleeper: Colton Herta.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship Season Preview

It has only been a little over two months since the 24 Hours of Le Mans but the new season of the FIA World Endurance Championship is upon us. After the 14-month 2018-19 season, the 2019-20 season will take place over nine-and-a-half months starting this weekend and ending at Le Mans next June. This year's schedule will look a little different with new races joining the schedule and there is more variety in the length of the races. This preview will look at each WEC entry from all four classes.

Silverstone has played host to the FIA World Endurance Championship season opener before but this time it will kick off the season on September 1st and unlike previous season this will be a four-hour race at Silverstone.

Fuji will be the first six-hour race of the season on October 6th with Shanghai being a four-hour race on November 10th.

The final race of the 2019 will be an eight-hour race at Bahrain. This race will take place on December 14th. The WEC had six races at Bahrain from 2012-17. This is the first time an eight-hour race has been scheduled.

The other returning venue is Interlagos and that will host a six-hour race on February 1st. The Brazilian track hosted three races from 2012-14 and each race had a different manufacture claim overall victory.

The 1,000 Miles of Sebring will return on March 20th with the penultimate round of the season being the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps on April 25th.

The 2019-20 season will conclude at the 88th 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 13-14th.

Rebellion Racing
#1 Rebellion R13-Gibson
Drivers: Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato, Bruno Senna
Prologue Result: 3rd
What to Expect: I think with Equivalence of Technology and success handicap Rebellion Racing is going to win at least one race on pace because there will come a point where the Toyotas are saddled with so much weight that the advantage ends up in Rebellion Racing's court and this isn't a bad team. Menezes is the only remaining member of the Silverstone winning team from last year but Senna is familiar with the car and Nato is having a successful campaign in the European Le Mans Series. This car should finish third in the championship.

#3 Rebellion R13-Gibson
Drivers: Nathanaël Berthon, Pipo Derani, Loïc Duval
Prologue Result: 5th
What to Expect: Unfortunately, Rebellion Racing has yet to commit to running two cars full-time but this should be a fun car to watch at Silverstone. You have a past Le Mans winner in Duval paired with one of the most exciting young drivers in sports cars in Derani and Berthon, who ran the final three races of last season with Rebellion Racing. I hope this entry runs full-time but if it can't I hope we see this car and especially this lineup in a few races, especially Le Mans.

Team LNT
#5 Ginetta G60-LT-P1-AER
Drivers: Ben Hanley, Egor Orduzhev, Charlie Robertson
Prologue Result: 6th
What to Expect: After a disastrous 2018-19 season under the CEFC TRSM Racing moniker, Lawrence Tomlinson has taken his Ginetta LMP1 car and created a de facto factory team. Hanley stays in LMP1 after DragonSpeed's exit. Orduzhev stays in LMP1 after SMP Racing's exit. Robertson is the weakest link in this chain but I think this could be a competitive lineup. The key thing is to complete laps and be running when the checkered flag falls on each race.

#6 Ginetta G60-LT-P1-AER
Drivers: Chris Dyson, Michael Simpson, Guy Smith, Oliver Jarvis
Prologue Result: 4th
What to Expect: The Ginetta's pace from the prologue encouraged me. That doesn't mean I think it will be contending for victories. It is a season behind the Rebellion and even if the Toyotas are shackled with a submarine's worth of weight I still think the Toyota would beat the Ginetta. The Ginetta has to prove it can be reliable. The reunion of former Dyson Racing co-drivers Dyson and Smith should give this entry the experience needed to bring the car to higher levels. Bad news is Dyson will miss Silverstone due to a wrist injury but Jarvis should be a suitable substitute.

Toyota Gazoo Racing 
#7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid
Drivers: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, José María López
Prologue Result: 1st
What to Expect: I think the Toyotas are going to continue their tussle from 2018-19. The #7 Toyota had plenty of strong days that were ruined when one minor thing went south, like not changing all four tires on a pit stop when the car came in for a deflating tire in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After all that went wrong, I think this car is going to be hard to beat for the championship. I especially think this trio has unfinished business at Circuit de la Sarthe.

#8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid
Drivers: Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Brendon Hartley
Prologue Result: 2nd
What to Expect: This is the defending champion, the winner of the last two 24 Hours of Le Mans and it subtracted one world champion for another world champion with Fernando Alonso's exit opening the door for Hartley's entrance. This is a superteam and this will be a hefty challenge for any LMP1 program, including the #7 Toyota. On paper, this car should win the championship again. I don't think it will be easy.

United Autosports
#22 Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Filipe Albuquerque, Philip Hanson, Paul di Resta, Oliver Jarvis
Prologue Result: 4th
What to Expect: United Autosports has been successful in European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series competition but this is the team's first foray into the World Endurance Championship. This is a strong lineup and with Jarvis substituting for di Resta when di Resta has Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters responsibilities the lineup this car should not see a drop in performance. A title in year one is a lot to ask for but I think it is possible.

Racing Team Nederland
#29 Dallara P217-Gibson
Drivers: Giedo van der Garde, Job van Uitert, Frits van Eerd, Nyck de Vries
Prologue Result: 1st
What to Expect: After Le Mans in June I thought this would be the championship favorite for 2019-20 and I think Racing Team Nederland will be up there. De Vries will miss Silverstone due to Formula Two commitments but if he runs the rest of the season I think that could decide whether or not this car wins the LMP2 championship.

High Class Racing
#33 Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Anders Fjordbach, Matt Patterson, Kenta Yamashita
Prologue Result: 7th
What to Expect: Fjordbach is making a big step without a lot of European Le Mans Series success. Patterson is making a return to full-time competition. Yamashita is making a big move into international racing after years of success in Japan and he currently leads the Super GT GT500 championship. Most of this season will be a learning experience for these three. This will be one of three LMP2 entries on Goodyear tires. The rest will be on Michelin tires.

Signatech Alpine Matmut
#36 Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Thomas Laurent, André Negrão, Pierre Ragues
Prologue Result: 5th
What to Expect: The defending LMP2 championship team has seen a slight change with Thomas Laurent, Toyota's reserve driver, and Pierre Ragues joining Negrão in the #36 Alpine while Thomas Laurent and Pierre Thiriet move on. This is a good lineup, it can be competitive and I probably will win a race or two, but I think there have been one too many changes for this car to successfully defend the title.

Jackie Chan DC Racing
#37 Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Gabriel Aubry, Will Stevens, Ho-Pin Tung
Prologue Result: 3rd
What to Expect: Aubry and Tung were second in the championship last year and Stevens enters into the fold. I don't expect to see Jackie Chan DC Racing taking a massive step back. I think this car will win a race or two but this class has gotten deeper and it will be a fun championship battle to watch. This will be one of three LMP2 entries on Goodyear tires. The rest will be on Michelin tires.

Jota Sport
#38 Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: António Félix da Costa, Anthony Davidson, Roberto González
Prologue Result: 6th
What to Expect: Jota Sport doesn't mess around. This is a championship winning team and it is a Le Mans winning team. Add to it Davidson will be full-time this year and da Costa comes in after the late exit of Pastor Maldonado, who did a good job last season, and this is a title threat. Da Costa does not have any prototype experience but he is a quick driver and I don't expect him to struggle. My only other concern is da Costa's possible Formula E commitments. If he has to miss a race or two or three that could decide the championship. This will be one of three LMP2 entries on Goodyear tires. The rest will be on Michelin tires.

Cool Racing
#42 Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Antonin Borga, Alexandre Coigny, Nicolas Lapierre
Prologue Result: 2nd
What to Expect: Nicolas Lapierre has two LMP2 championships and he is four-for-four in the LMP2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This is a big challenge for him because both those titles and three of those Le Mans victories came at Signatech Alpine. He got the car to the top in the prologue but he has two co-drivers that are making a big step up. All three race together in the European Le Mans Series and they finished third last time out at Barcelona but they are sixth in the championship. Lapierre cannot do it all on his own for eight races.

Cetilar Racing
#47 Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Andrea Belicchi, Roberto Lacorte, Giorgio Sernagiotto
Prologue Result: 8th
What to Expect: These three have a lot of experience together but they have yet to have a big breakthrough. With the quality of this class I expect this entry to be toward the back of LMP2.

AF Corse
#51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi
Prologue Result: 3rd
What to Expect: These two won there only two races Ferrari won in 2018-19. With the exit of Ford and BMW, there is a greater likelihood for every team to win in 2019-20. Calado and Pier Guidi will be competitive and depending on how the season starts this could be a championship contender.

#71 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina
Prologue Result: 1st
What to Expect: Rigon has a new full-time co-driver with Sam Bird being let go to focus on Formula E. The results were not inspiring for this entry last year. Molina has been highly successful since turning his focus to sports cars after running in DTM. I think this refreshed lineup will get much better results than the #71 Ferrari had last season.

Porsche GT Team
#91 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz
Prologue Result: 4th
What to Expect: Both drivers are world champions in GTE-Pro and I think they will win more than one race in 2019-20. This team had only one victory last season. Porsche was head-and-shoulders above the competition last season. I think it will be a more balanced fight this year.

#92 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Michael Christensen, Kévin Estre
Prologue Result: 2nd
What to Expect: This is the defending champion but it won the title after a strong start to the season when every other team seemed to have an off race. Christensen and Estre did not win any of the final four races in 2018-19 and it finished behind its teammate in the final three races. It will be a difficult title defense.

Aston Martin Racing
#95 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Marco Sørensen, Nicki Thiim
Prologue Result: Did not compete
What to Expect: Aston Martin struggled last year and though each car won a race those were the only two podium finishes were the manufacture. In fact, the team's last four podium finishes, dating back to 2017, are victories. It seems like this team gets its day for each car but it lacks what it takes full-time.

#97 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Alex Lynn, Maxime Martin
Prologue Result: 5th
What to Expect: Similar to the sister car, the bar is quite low and Aston Martin should be glad both Ford and BMW have exited the championship. I think Aston Martin will get more podium finishes sheerly because all it will take is one Porsche and one Ferrari having a problem. If the Aston Martins can stay on the racetrack, which wasn't the problem last year as the team had one retirement between the two cars in 2018-19, the results will be better on paper.

AF Corse
#54 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Francesco Castellacci, Giancarlo Fisichella, Thomas Flöhr
Prologue Result: 4th
What to Expect: Flohr and Castellacci finished fourth in the championship for a second consecutive season and the team had two runner-up finishes. I think this car will get solid results and could win a race but again end up fourth in the championship.

#83 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Emmanuel Collard, Nicklas Nielsen, François Perrodo
Prologue Result: 5th
What to Expect: Collard and Perrodo return to GTE-Am after two seasons in LMP2. The last time these two were in GTE-Am, they won the title. Nielsen is currently apart of the ELMS GTE championship leading team. It would not surprise me if this car is in the title battle.

Team Project 1
#56 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Matteo Cairoli, David Heinemeier Hansson, Egidio Perfetti
Prologue Result: 2nd
What to Expect: Two changes as Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey leave after winning the title and Cairoli and Heinemeier Hansson joining Perfetti in the #56 Porsche. Cairoli ran last year with Dempsey-Proton Racing and Heinemeier Hansson has jumped between LMP2 and GTE-Am for years. This is a good car but a title defense will be difficult.

#57 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga
Prologue Result: 1st
What to Expect: Bleekemolen, Keating and Fraga won at Le Mans in GTE-Am on the road before losing it due to a disqualification for an oversize fuel tank. These three have run together in IMSA. Bleekemolen and Keating are coming off a victory in the GT Daytona class at Virginia International Raceway. This car topped the prologue and I think it will be a title contender.

Red River Sport
#62 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Bonamy Grimes, Charles Hollings, Johnny Mowlem
Prologue Result: 7th
What to Expect: The retired Mowlem is bringing two drivers to the international stage for the first time. Mowlem has been working with Grimes and they competed in the Asian Le Mans Series last season. Hollings has run in 24H Series and the Britcar Endurance Championship. I think this will be a learning year for this entry with hopes of greater results in 2020-21 and beyond.

MR Racing
#70 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: Olivier Beretta, Kei Cozzolino, Motoaki Ishikawa
Prologue Result: 6th
What to Expect: One change in this car, as Cozzolino replaces Eddie Cheever III. Cozzolino won the Asian Le Mans Series GT title last season and this car was consistent last year. I am not sure it made enough of an improvement though to win races.

Dempsey-Proton Racing
#77 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Matt Campbell, Christian Ried, Riccardo Pera
Prologue Result: 9th
What to Expect: This car won five of eight races last season, two of which the team lost points for after the team was found guilty of manipulating refueling times. I think this is the favorite for the championship. Ried is a veteran and Campbell appears to be Porsche's next great driver.

#88 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Thomas Preining, TBC, TBC
Prologue Result: 10th
What to Expect: Preining is the only one confirmed for this car for Silverstone, although it is a full-time WEC entry. Dempsey-Proton Racing has a history of drivers rotating between its entries, especially having Porsche junior drivers coming in. Preining is already a Porsche junior driver. Last year, Dempsey-Proton Racing has Matteo Cairoli run every race in the #88 Porsche but he had five different drivers rotate through the other seven races and this car had six different driver lineups over the eight races.

Gulf Racing UK
#86 Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Michael Wainwright, Ben Barker, Andrew Watson
Prologue Result: 3rd
What to Expect: Wainwright and Barker did nothing spectacular last year but they finished all the races and that is important. Watson has endurance race experience but mostly in the Blancpain GT Championship. If this car repeats what it did last year it is bound to have a podium finish or more.

TF Sport
#90 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Euan Hankey, Charlie Eastwood, Salih Yoluç
Prologue Result: 11th
What to Expect: TF Sport was a bit of surprise last year with Yoluç and Eastwood finishing third in the championship. I feel like the class has gotten a little tougher this year. It wouldn't surprise me if this car wins a race but I don't think it will match or improve on its championship results from last season.

Aston Martin Racing
#98 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana, Darren Turner, Ross Gunn
Prologue Result: 8th
What to Expect: Dalla Lana will no longer has Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda, his co-drivers for the previous four seasons join him, but he will have Turner and Gunn and those are two stout drivers to come in. I think this car will improve greatly over eighth in the championship last year and I think it will get back to challenging for the title.

The first practice session for the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship will take place at 7:40 a.m. ET on Friday August 30th. Second practice will take place later that day at 12:30 p.m. ET. Each Friday practice will be 90 minutes.

On Saturday August 31st, a one-hour practice session is scheduled for 5:00 a.m. ET with qualifying following at 7:50 a.m. ET for the GTE classes and 8:20 a.m. ET for the prototype classes.

The 4 Hours of Silverstone will begin at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday September 1st.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Are Commercials All That Matter?

Takuma Sato won the Gateway IndyCar race in a photo finish over Ed Carpenter and that wasn't even the most impressive thing to happen at Gateway. Sato-Carpenter arguably wasn't even the best photo finish of the weekend and we have MotoGP to thank for that. The NASCAR Cup Series was off but the other two national touring series had road course races. Suzuka hosted an endurance race. Germany hosted a rally. A manufacture swept a podium. A record is likely going to be shattered in Australia. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Are Commercials All That Matter?
We are in the middle of an ever changing and shifting media landscape.

It seems there is a new platform, new feed, new set of time wasting material popping up on a daily basis. There is more at our fingertips than ever before. Along with an abundance of television channels we have multiple streaming services giving us an incredible catalog of programs, old and new. We have YouTube channels that put out videos on a daily basis, some uploading new material multiple times on a given day. Then we entertain ourselves through social media, choose your poison when it comes to those services.

This is also neglects to mention books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs, CDs, tape cassettes, radio, music streaming services, board games, crossword puzzles, word searches, Sudoku, color-by-numbers and solitaire as things vying for our attention.

Let's just say there is no reason for anyone to say they are bored in the year 2019. If you cannot find a way to entertain yourself than that's on you.

Anyway, motorsports are not protected from these changing times. Everyone is trying to evolve and remain available to the general public. It is not easy to stay with the times. It was easier when television and radio were your broadcasting options. Now, it is difficult to keep up and have a broadcasting deal that covers all the different platforms, especially when there is not a common platform for all viewers.

Television is still king. I don't care when you cut the cord or how much traditional television you do not watch, television is still on top. With that said, the times are changing and there is a portion of the population that is entirely floating free on streaming platforms.

With all these changes, we see a conflict in viewership and what is tolerable. Streaming services have provided people with the ability to avoid advertising at all cost. The issue is advertising and commercials are always going to exist. Someone has to cover the bill and commercials are the avenue of choice for most, even on the Internet.

Commercials were once part of the experience. Everyone had to live with it. The 21st century has changed that. There is a commercial-free generation that has never had to pause for a commercial break, has never had to endure one-minute commercials for some kind of medication that's side effects are ten times worse than the condition being treated and they are spoiled.

Let's call it like it is: These people are spoiled. They choose to be spoiled but spoiled nonetheless and it leads to conflicts, especially when it comes to coverage of any sport but we are going to focus on motorsports today.

Commercials have been a part of a race. Once again, someone has to foot the bill and when broadcasters are paying millions of dollars for rights fees, someone has to re-coop that money. Commercials are the answer. It is the name of the game. However, there has been a change in reason years in the United States and it has to do with the largest motorsports series in the world.

When Formula One moved from NBC to ESPN it was a big change because there was not a dedicated American broadcast team. ESPN decided to take the world feed. ESPN also is not paying a rights fee. Formula One passed on NBC due to Formula One introducing its own over-the-top streaming service. NBC didn't want to give that up and basically wanted something similar to what we have with the IndyCar Gold Pass, but for Formula One. With Formula One introducing its own OTT service, it did not make sense for Formula One to go head-to-head with NBC's OTT service. It wasn't going to blackout its streaming service in the United States.

Enter ESPN. ESPN would take over traditional broadcasting means, would not compete with Formula One's OTT platform and Formula One was willing to give it away for nothing.

ESPN's first race came and it was treated like every other race. The only problem was the world feed approach caused an issue when it came to commercials. There was no warning of a break. It came and when you returned no one was there to catch you up. Add to it that the first time ESPN went to break was when both Haas cars retired from pit lane issues in the Australian Grand Prix last year and when it returned there was no catch-up. Both Haas cars were out with no explanation made to the viewer.

This caused a bit of a minor earthquake with enough pissed off fans making a commotion for ESPN to take notice. The network was quick to assure the same problem would not happen in the next race.

The good news for ESPN, since it spent zero dollars on Formula One rights, it didn't have to have commercials. ESPN made a profit from that one race alone. Of course, ESPN wasn't going to settle on one race and we have seen commercial-free coverage with some company, usually Meguiar's Car Care, being the presenting sponsor of the commercial-free coverage.

Moving onto IndyCar, this is the series' first season with NBC being the lone television partner and people have been angry with the number of commercials. It did not take the people who once cried "Always Bad Coverage" long to establish a new acronym: "Nothing But Commercials."

Remember: IndyCar fans got what they wanted. They wanted NBC to be the lone television partner. Here we are!

I don't know how many commercials are too many. I mostly tune the commercials out. I also watch the race differently, with live timing and scoring in front of me and with one earbud in with the radio broadcast. There is plenty to watch even when the race is in a commercial. Funny enough, television and radio do seem to go to commercial break simultaneously more than one would expect.

I remember Seth Meyers was a guest on Bill Simmons' podcast before Myers hosted the ESPY's one year and Meyers said something along the lines of "saying you hate commercials is like saying your least favorite thing about grocery shopping is the cash register." It is part of it and it is not something new. If you have been an IndyCar fan for 50 years you have been watching television with commercial for 50 years. You have been watching sports with commercials for 50 years. You have been watching IndyCar races with commercials for 50 years.

I don't think it is too entirely one-sided as commercials taking up more times than the race itself. If I went after a younger generation of being spoiled for avoiding commercials I am going to go after the older generation who were spoiled in thinking there were not as many commercials as when they were a child or at least at a younger age.

When races were on ABC's Wide World of Sports, you didn't necessarily see the entire race in many cases. You basically got extended race highlights and all the action could be condensed and commercials could fit around it. You didn't see fewer commercials but you saw less of the race. The difference is the broadcast could be guaranteed to include every pass for the lead, accident and every other notable moment.

When the entire race is broadcasted flag-to-flag, there is no guarantee you will see anything important. There is the chance every notable thing happens during a commercial break. That rarely happens but the chance is there and you are always going to feel like you are missing out because the race goes on despite not being on your television screen.

With the Formula One rights in the United States up for grabs in 2020, vocal fans want commercial-free coverage to continue but that does not seem likely. Formula One is not going to give away the United States TV rights for free again. The series is losing too much money on the United States. Whatever network agrees to Formula One rights is going to bring back commercials and somehow it is going to infuriate a load of people and I don't get it.

When Formula One left NBC, it left original content, dedicated pre-race and post-race shows and an American voice. There were commercials during the races but Formula One got plenty of airtime outside of when practice sessions, qualifying and the race occurred.

There has to be more than matters than whether or not there are commercials in a race. The knowledgeable people on the broadcast and what they bring are important. A television partner should be interested in the property beyond the time when its events have to be on the airwaves. The auxiliary programming, the behind the scenes stuff shows how dedicated a network is to a property. NBC gave Formula One fans that extra stuff.

Has this current U.S. Formula One television deal introduced a new concept into how a race is broadcasted and could certain races find one or two or three that present the race with the only commercials being 30-second ads for those companies before returning to the race and going uninterrupted until that third of the race is complete? Maybe.

I am all for trying new things and introducing things that can make the broadcast better. If the networks can find a way to split presenting sponsors and some races will have next to no commercials then great! It sounds good on paper but if no companies are interested in that approach than it is not going to happen and we are going to have our traditional blocks of commercials, which are not the end of the world. You will live and it will not be as excessive as you think.

We, as the audience, have to be more critical than basing whether or not the coverage is suitable over the number of commercials. It is foolish to do such a thing. It is important to realize what we have is not a terrible thing and there are reasons as to why it exists the form that it does.

We cannot be one-dimensional in what we want. We only set ourselves up to lose out in such a case.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Takuma Sato but did you know...

Oliver Askew won the Indy Lights race from Gateway, his fourth consecutive victory and his seventh victory of the season. Kyle Kirkwood won the Indy Pro 200 race from 12th on the grid. It is Kirkwood's fourth consecutive victory and sixth of the season.

Álex Rins won MotoGP's British Grand Prix by 0.013 seconds over Marc Márquez after making a pass off the final corner. Augusto Fernández won the Moto2 race, his second victory of the season. Marcos Ramírez won the Moto3 race, his second victory of the season.

Christopher Bell won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Road America, his sixth victory of the season. Brett Moffitt won the Truck race from Mosport, his second consecutive victory and his fourth victory of the season.

The #25 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi of Frédéric Vervisch, Kelvin van der Linde and Dries Vanthoor won the Suzuka 10 Hours.

The #911 Porsche of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet won the IMSA race from Virginia International Raceway. The #33 Team Riley Mercedes-AMG of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won in the GTD class.

Scott McLaughlin swept the Supercars races from Tailem Bend and he has tied Craig Lowndes' single-season record of 16 victories. There are eight races to go in the 2019 season!

Nico Müller and René Rast split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from Lausitzring. It was Müller's second victory of the season and Rast's fifth victory.

Ott Tänak won Rallye Deutschland, his second consecutive victory and fifth of 2019. Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala made it a Toyota 1-2-3.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar's penultimate race of 2019 from Portland.
The Southern 500, NASCAR's penultimate race of the Cup regular season.
Formula One is back and is back at Spa-Francorchamps.
The FIA World Endurance Championship season begins at Silverstone with a four-hour race.
The European Le Mans Series will have its own four-hour race at Silverstone.
Blancpain World Challenge America has its antepenultimate round from Watkins Glen.
Blancpain World Challenge Europe has its penultimate round from Nürburgring.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

First Impressions: Gateway 2019

1. This race was ridiculously bonkers. It felt more like a road course race where one caution shuffled the field and allowed the tail end of the lead lap to assume the podium positions. After watching the first 175 laps of the 248-lap Bommarito Auto Group 500, there was no damn way Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan was going to be the podium of this race and sure enough that was the case!

It was a mixture of the way the strategy worked out and pit stops and the difficult nature of Gateway Motorsports Park but with about 40 laps to go, when Josef Newgarden either couldn't get through Kanaan and Carpenter or Newgarden was settling for fourth with his championship rivals well in his mirrors, it became clear Takuma Sato was going to win this race and that is bonkers!

Sato was lost at the start. He fell to dead last from fifth on the grid. It appeared to be another night from hell. All I can say is Sato kept running and with all the cautions he was able to stay on the lead lap. The cautions fell in a way where Sato and the like could gamble and try and stretch his fuel. Sato was in the correct place. When Sébastien Bourdais skimmed the wall, Sato was the leader and had trapped all but Kanaan, Carpenter and Newgarden a lap down. He had plenty of cushion and with a successful restart that saw him retain the lead, he was gone and after being under a microscope for six days, Sato picks up his second victory of the season.

2. Kudos to Ed Carpenter for giving Sato a run for his money because a margin of victory of 0.0399 seconds did not look likely with ten laps to go. Kanaan didn't have the pace to catch Sato and Carpenter found his legs late. If this race were 249 laps, Carpenter would be claiming his first victory in five years. Not a bad way for Carpenter to end his season.

3. It was nice to see have Tony Kanaan have a good day. This was not like Pocono or Iowa where Kanaan got into the top ten. He struggled a bit. He wasn't terrible but this wasn't a race where Kanaan was starting eighth and staying in the top ten all race. It has been over two years since Kanaan's last top five finish. It is just nice to see him happy. Work has to be done to improve A.J. Foyt Racing but it was nice to see they won a lottery tonight, even if it was only $50 on a scratch off.

4. Santino Ferrucci gets another fourth place finish on an oval. Ferrucci hasn't put a wheel wrong this year and he was the top rookie finisher in all five oval races. He deserves credit and he is in the catbird seat for rookie of the year now. He did make a mistake on the final lap, running wide and coming back down into the racing line, forcing Newgarden to spin. It is a mixture of Ferrucci has been good but he has been fortunate on multiple occasions. We have to revisit Ferrucci's past at a later date because when the going got tough in Europe he snapped. Things are going well now but what driver will he be when he hits a rough patch in IndyCar?

5. Simon Pagenaud is leaving Gateway second in the championship on a night when he really didn't have top five pace. It was odd to see Pagenaud not quite have it but this fifth place finish is a big lift for him and all of a sudden he is Newgarden's closest championship competitor with two races to go.

6. This was the night I expected out of Conor Daly. Carlin has had good cars on ovals. Daly has been good and Charlie Kimball has been good. Daly has had a handled on Gateway since IndyCar first tested at the track in the spring of 2017. I think this was Daly's best race in IndyCar. I got to go back and check because he had some good runs when substituting for James Hinchcliffe four years ago and he led laps in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Mid-Ohio driving for Dale Coyne Racing but this race was stout when Daly has nothing guaranteed... other than a ride in the season finale with Andretti Autosport.

7. Josef Newgarden nearly coughed up another load of points like he did at Mid-Ohio. Granted, it appeared this case was not over-aggression from Newgarden but naïveness from Ferrucci forcing an error from Newgarden. I felt like Newgarden and Ferrucci had the best cars tonight but when Newgarden got in traffic he didn't quite have it. In the closing laps he knew he didn't have to win. He knew he was set to increase his championship lead.

I am sure he is ruing losing those points but he leaves Gateway 38 points ahead of Pagenaud, four points more than he had over second entering this race. Even when Newgarden loses he wins. I said I felt Newgarden would put a hand on the Astor Cup at Gateway. Four points isn't a massive championship lead increase but Newgarden has to be feeling confident heading into the final two races.

8. Ryan Hunter-Reay gets an eighth place finish in his 250th start. The Bourdais caution cost him. Hunter-Reay was set on a three-stop strategy but that caution trapped him a lap down. Instead of fight for a top five all he could do was take the wave around and be stuck in the back half of the top ten.

9. Colton Herta gets a ninth place finish; the first time he has finished a race on an oval. I think Herta needed that weight over his shoulders with the oval season concluding.

10. Marco Andretti rounded out the top ten but this was not his strongest night. Andretti was hoping to have a three-stop strategy play into his favor. It was until the final caution but he needs to find oval pace during the offseason.

11. Felix Rosenqvist and James Hinchcliffe were the 11th and 12th place finishers. We need to get to Alexander Rossi...

12. And in 13th was Alexander Rossi. Rossi has to win one of Portland or Laguna Seca. He is not out of it, as he is only 46 points back with two races to go. He could win at Portland, cut the championship lead to 35 points and that is still a favorable margin where he could win Laguna Seca and still be champion if Newgarden finishes fifth but Rossi's two crappy days could not come at the worse time.

Tonight wasn't that bad until the Bourdais caution. Rossi got better and was challenging Newgarden but the Bourdais caution trapped Rossi a lap down. Rossi was a spot behind Newgarden but during that pit cycle Rossi got stuck in traffic. Newgarden not only leapfrogged Rossi but also got out ahead of the traffic and was able to build a ten-second gap over Rossi. Newgarden was on the lead lap when the caution came out. Rossi missed it by the matter of seconds.

Rossi could have stopped and taken fuel but he was in a lose-lose. If he did stop he could make it but he would lose ground to Newgarden. If he didn't stop, which he didn't, he was going to need extreme fuel conservation to make it or make his final stop under green. His final stop came under green and he finished a lap down in 13th.

Hindsight says he should have stopped and even at the time he should have stopped. My only thought is the team didn't want to risk sending him back to restart in 11th but here he finished 13th. If he had restarted 11th he would have at least been on the lead lap and had about 40 laps to climb back up. There was no guarantee he would catch Newgarden but he could have gotten to seventh or eighth and in that case he would not have lost as much ground.

Rossi has not had much go his way the last four races and in none of the last four races has he been the man to beat. It has to be infuriating because he has been within touching distance of the top spot in the championship since basically day one of the season and now, at the 11th hour, he cannot seem to re-gather the magic. The ship has to be righted in Portland otherwise the finale in his home state will be another scramble.

13. Quickly through the rest of the field: Zach Veach is still lost. Charlie Kimball pinched Spencer Pigot. Marcus Ericsson spun twice and didn't hit anything either time. Matheus Leist was in the way. Something broke on Graham Rahal. Sébastien Bourdais had a wonderful night going and he could have been a podium finisher.

14. Oh... because of how batshit crazy tonight was we forgot that Scott Dixon had a radiator puncture hamper his night and Will Power got into the wall all on his own. This has been an uncharacteristically odd season for both drivers. Dixon has had too many things go against him and Power is developing this worrying trend of mistakes when running at the front. This season is either a one-off or a shift in the careers of these drivers. We will only really know in about 2022.

15. We had longer cautions tonight than we have seen in recent IndyCar races and the notable reason was the sweepers. This isn't new and it was much more common I feel a few years ago. I don't know if it is just because there has been less attrition in oval races in recent years or if other ovals do not have as many marbles gather off line but enough people were losing their patience tonight that I think a comment has to be made.

It is trade off. If you want cars to be able to pass at least after a restart than it is going to take five or six more laps for the sweepers to do the necessary job. If you don't want to lose those laps than fine but don't get upset if everyone is single-file on a restart. We can't have it both ways.

I think the marbles were more excessive than the other ovals we have had this year. There is part of me that thinks we don't need to sweep all the time but how do you decide? It is kind of like cleaning the floors in your house. You aren't going to mop every other day but if you start seeing grime build up you are going to take care of it. There is not a right time or schedule and I am not sure it can be regulated. I can't think it would make any sense for IndyCar to limit itself to only bringing out the sweepers once in each half of a race. That could back the series into a corner.

This is just a side effect of trying to make sure the racetrack is conducive to competitive racing.

16. This was not a frantic race with passes at the end of each straightaway on every lap and yet I love every moment of it because of the chess-like breakdown that each team had to execute. Each team had to find a way to the front and you had to make a pass or two but it was about tire strategy and making sure to stop early and pick up ground. It was battling the marbles and lapped traffic. It was nerve-wracking to watch. It was not full of highlight reel material but it was mental. It was 22 teams trying to stay ahead while fighting from behind.

17. Gateway is not an easy place to pass at and that is fine. I feel like we have done this after each Gateway race. Not every track can have passing every lap, nor sure every race have passing on every lap. We have seen in the last two Gateway races strategy shape what occurs on the racetrack. There is nothing wrong with that but in these cases we do not know what type of race we are going to get until about halfway to 60% of the way through.

Will Power said a second line could form and, of course, Power is the guy who gets into the marbles and into the wall. I kind of wish Gateway was not repaved in the spring of 2017 before IndyCar's return because the older surface would have chewed up tires and drivers would have gravitated to a second line. It was similar to Iowa.

We have to wait probably another two or three years because the surface is worn enough where drivers consider the outside, at least in turns one and two. In the current state, unless there is a ton of rubber it is going to be one groove and IndyCar just doesn't have the time to make sure the track is rubbered up.

IndyCar only had two one-hour practice sessions. Add to it that there was the Indy Pro 2000 race on Cooper Tires, Indy Lights race on Cooper Tires and the NASCAR K&N East and West Series combined race on Goodyear tires all before the IndyCar race tonight and in that case IndyCar has no hope of having a track surface conducive to the Firestone tires.

I wish Firestone supplied the support series tires because then the same compound could be brought for all the series competing and then the track would be at its peak rubber level but that is not the case. I am not sure what IndyCar can do to make sure two grooves are ready to go if not right when the race begins within the first stint of the race. IndyCar has not experiment with traction compounds like NASCAR. A lot of people do not like it but, same with caution lengths, if you are upset there is not enough passing you cannot get upset if IndyCar tries something to make sure there is more passing.

It seems like Gateway doesn't mind. For three years, Gateway has had the second-best oval crowd by a country mile and it is definitely in the top five races people look forward to the most along with Mid-Ohio, Long Beach, Road America and the Indianapolis 500.

I think we all want to ensure the racing will be excellent but it seems like people are already happy. Maybe IndyCar doesn't have to do a thing.

18. Eight days until Portland and we have two races to go. August will be over the next time the green flag falls to start a race. The end is near my friends.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Morning Warm-Up: Gateway 2019

Josef Newgarden's Gateway pole position has him one point closer to the Astor Cup
Josef Newgarden won pole position for the Bommarito Auto Group 500 from Gateway Motorsports Park with a two-lap average of 186.508 MPH. It is Newgarden's eighth career pole position and it is his second pole position of 2019. It is his third career pole position on an oval. Newgarden has twice won from pole position in his IndyCar career. He won from pole position at Barber and Road America last year. The only oval race won from pole position in 2019 was the Indianapolis 500, where Simon Pagenaud led 116 laps on his way to victory. Newgarden has led 440 laps this season and he needs to lead 46 more laps to set a personal best most laps led in a season. Newgarden also needs to led six more laps to reach 2,000 laps led. He would become the 24th driver to lead 2,000 laps in IndyCar history. Newgarden's best finish from his other oval pole positions was fifth at Milwaukee in 2015.

Sébastien Bourdais gets his best starting position of 2019, as he will join Newgarden on the front row. Bourdais missed out on pole position by 0.1498 seconds. Bourdais has not won from second on the grid since he won his final Champ Car start in the 2007 season finale in Mexico City. This will be the 16th time he has started a race from second on the grid. He has won seven times from second starting position. He has finished on the podium 12 times from second on the grid. Four of Bourdais' seven top ten finishes in 2019 have come on ovals. Bourdais has never had a season where majority of his top ten finishes came on ovals. He has also never had a season where his number of top ten finishes on ovals and road/street courses were level.

Will Power is coming off a victory at Pocono and he will lead an all-Team Penske row two with Simon Pagenaud to Power's outside. Power is attempting to win consecutive oval races for the first time in his IndyCar career. The last driver to win consecutive races that were held on ovals was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won at Iowa and Milwaukee in 2012. With Power's victory last week, every starting position within the top eight has won a race in 2019. Pagenaud has been running at the finish of 28 consecutive races. This is Pagenaud's longest streak of consecutive finishes in his IndyCar career. Pagenaud has finished in the top five in his first two Gateway starts. The only ovals where Pagenaud has three top five finishes or more are Texas, where he has had four, and Iowa, where he picked up his third top five finish at the track last month.

Takuma Sato will start fifth. This is the third consecutive race Sato has qualified in the top five. Sato's average finishing position on ovals this season is 14.75 and Sato has finished outside the top fifteen in four consecutive races. It is Sato's longest stretch without a top fifteen finish since he had nine consecutive results outside the top fifteen from the Indianapolis 500 to the second Toronto race in 2014. Santino Ferrucci will start a career best sixth. Ferrucci's previous best starting position was tenth at Barber. After Alexander Rossi's accident significantly hampered his Pocono race,  Ferrucci is back to being the driver to have completed the most laps in 2019, having run 1,645 of 1,649 laps. The next closest driver is Pagenaud, who has run 1,637 laps.

James Hinchcliffe will start on row four will Scott Dixon. Hinchcliffe is three points outside the top ten in the championship. Hinchcliffe has started 18 races in the month of August. In those 18 starts, he has two podium finishes, five top five finishes and ten top ten finishes. Hinchcliffe has finished worse than his starting position in six of 14 races this season including in two of the four oval races. Dixon has four consecutive podium finishes. The only time Dixon has had five consecutive podium finishes in his career was in 2008 when he finished third at Motegi and Kansas, won the Indianapolis 500, finished second at Milwaukee and won at Texas. Dixon is one podium finish away from his first season with at least ten podium finishes since 2009. It would be the fourth time he has had double figures in podium finishes in his IndyCar career. This is the third time in the last four races Dixon has started eighth. This will be the 15th time Dixon has started eighth in his career.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will make his 250th IndyCar start this weekend and he will do it from ninth on the grid. Hunter-Reay is the 15th driver to reach the 250-start milestone. Each of his 50-start milestones have been finishes outside the top ten except for his 50th start, where he finished seventh in the 2008 season opener at Homestead. The only driver to win in a 250th start is A.J. Foyt who won at Ontario in 1977. Only three times has a driver make a 250th start not finished in the top ten. The only time Hunter-Reay has won from ninth in his career was at Iowa in 2015. Felix Rosenqvist rounds out the top ten in the #10 Monster Energy Honda. This is Rosenqvist's best qualifying result on an oval. Last week, he started ninth after entrant points set the starting grid. Rosenqvist has led 67 laps this season, most of the rookies and 27 laps more than all the other rookies have led combined in 2019. Rosenqvist has led double-digit laps in three races this season. The other rookies have led double-digit laps in a combined two races in 2019.

There has yet to be a winner in 2019 to start outside the top ten. The last season not to feature a winner from outside the top ten was 2009, when every race winner started within the first four positions on the grid.

Alexander Rossi will start 11th, only the third time he has started outside the top ten this season and the second time on an oval. Rossi started 11th at Texas and went on to finish second to Newgarden. The only race Rossi has won from outside the top ten was the 2016 Indianapolis 500, where he started 11th. Rossi completed 39 laps at Pocono last week, the second fewest laps he has completed in his IndyCar career. The fewest laps he has completed in a race were 36 laps at Texas in 2017. That Texas race in 2017 is Rossi's most recent retirement. He has been running at the finish of 39 consecutive races. Colton Herta will be to Rossi's outside on row six. Herta has seven retirements from 14 starts this season and he has retired from all four oval races in 2019. In Herta's two Indy Lights starts at Gateway he finished third and second and last year he led 69 laps from pole position before Ryan Norman took the lead with six laps to go.

Spencer Pigot will start 13th with Marcus Ericsson next to Pigot on row seven. Pigot has not led a lap since he led four laps in the Indianapolis 500 in May. Pigot has led 16 laps in his career but he has never led more than eight laps in a single race. Pigot has never led a lap and then finished in the top ten of that same race in his IndyCar career. This is the fifth time Pigot has started 13th in his career. Pigot started 13th at Mid-Ohio last month and finished seventh. Ericsson has completed all but three laps in his four oval starts this season and he completed all 128 laps at Pocono last week. It was the third time Ericsson was the top finishing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver this season. He was the top SPM finisher in both Belle Isle races in June.

Row eight will feature two Ohioans with Zach Veach starting ahead of Graham Rahal. This is the seventh consecutive race Veach has started outside the top ten. Veach was the best finishing Andretti Autosport driver at Pocono with his 13th place result. It was the second time Veach was the top Andretti driver in 2019. On both occasions he was the top Andretti finisher none of the Andretti Autosport drivers finished in the top ten. This is Rahal's worst starting position since he had to start 22nd in the second Belle Isle race in June. Rahal has finished 12th and tenth in his two Gateway starts. His father Bobby made two Gateway starts with a 20th place result after an electrical failure and an eighth place finish.

Ed Carpenter and Conor Daly make it an all-American row nine. Seventeenth matches Carpenter's worst starting position of the season. He started 17th at Iowa last month. Carpenter has not finished on the lead lap at Gateway. The only tracks where Carpenter has not finished on the lead lap and has made at least three starts are Baltimore, where he made three starts, and Michigan, where he made four starts. Conor Daly has finished in the top fifteen in the last five races. The only time Daly has had five consecutive top fifteen finishes were during the final five races of 2017. Daly went from 11th to fifth in his only start at Gateway in 2017.

Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan round out the top twenty. Kimball completed all 128 laps of the rain-shortened Pocono race. It was Kimball's first lead lap finish on an oval since last year's Indianapolis 500. Kimball has not had consecutive lead laps finishes on ovals since Pocono and Gateway in 2017. Kanaan had four top ten finishes last year and he heads to Gateway coming off his third top ten finish of 2019 after finishing eighth at Pocono. Pocono was Kanaan's first lead lap finish since the first Belle Isle race in June. Kanaan has only four lead laps finishes in 2019. Kanaan has not started a race in the top ten this season with his best starting position being 13th at Iowa.

Matheus Leist will start 21st with Marco Andretti rounding out the grid in 22nd position. This is the 11th time Leist has qualified 20th or worse this season. Leist is coming off a 14th place finish at Pocono. It was Leist's first top fifteen finish since he finished 15th in the Indianapolis 500 in May. Leist has not finished on the lead lap since the Indianapolis 500 and he has only three lead lap finishes all season. Last year, Leist had ten lead lap finishes. This will be the 232nd start of Andretti's career. His grandfather Mario made his 232nd start at Michigan in 1983 and he finished fourth in that race. His father Michael made his 232nd start at Motegi in 1999 and he finished fifth in that race. Both Mario and Michael did not finish on the lead lap of their 232nd starts.

NBCSN's coverage of the Bommarito Auto Group 500 begins at 8:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 8:45 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 248 laps.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Track Walk: Gateway 2019

IndyCar's final night in the Midwest takes place at Gateway
The 15th round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season is the final oval race and the final night race of the season and it takes place at Gateway Motorsports Park. With three races remaining, 212 points are left on the table and we have gone from 14 drivers mathematically eligible for the title entering Pocono to eight drivers entering Gateway. The drivers eliminated after Pocono were Felix Rosenqvist, Sébastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Santino Ferrucci, Spencer Pigot and Colton Herta.

Time: Coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. ET on Saturday August 24th with green flag scheduled for 8:45 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 2:00 p.m. ET (60-minute session)*
Qualifying: 6:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session)*
Second Practice: 9:15 p.m. ET (60-minute session)*
Race: 8:45 p.m. ET (248 laps)

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

Pagenaud vs. Newgarden for Oval Supremacy
With four oval races down and one to go, only two drivers could end up with the unofficial oval championship in 2019 and it will either be Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud or Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden.

Pagenaud sits on 212 points with 112 of those points coming from his Indianapolis 500 victory. Pagenaud has finished in the top ten of all four oval races this season with two podium finishes and three top five finishes. His third place finish at Pocono is the fifth different oval where Pagenaud has picked up a podium finish. The only other season where Pagenaud has had multiple podium finishes on ovals was 2017 where he won at Phoenix, was third at Texas and was third at Gateway.

Newgardan is only ten points behind Pagenaud in the oval points standings. Newgarden has finished in the top five of all four oval races this season with two victories. Newgarden's average finish on ovals this season is 2.75. Newgarden could become the first driver with three oval victories in a season since 2009 when Scott Dixon won four oval races that season at Kansas, Milwaukee, Richmond and Motegi. Newgarden has led a lap in every oval race this season and the only other driver to lead a lap in every oval race this season is Dixon.

This will be the seventh consecutive season where a Team Penske driver will be the top oval driver in a season and Pagenaud could become the fifth different driver to top the oval standings in the last five season. Since IndyCar first recognized the discipline championships in 2010, only twice has the top oval driver won the overall championship. Dario Franchitti was the top oval driver and champion in 2010 and Ryan Hunter-Reay also accomplished the feat in 2012.

The average championship finish for the last nine oval champions is 2.667 with all nine oval champions since 2010 having finished in the top four of the overall championship. Interestingly, six of the nine oval champions since 2010 only won one oval race that season with the three oval champions with multiple oval victories being Franchitti, Hunter-Reay and Will Power, who won at Indianapolis and Gateway last year.

Team Penske's Perfect Oval Season
Entering Gateway, Team Penske has won all four oval races this season and the team has won five consecutive oval races dating back to last season. The team is looking to sweep the oval races in 2019 after Will Power picked up his first victory of the season in a rain-shortened Pocono race.

Adding to Penske's favor is the team has won four consecutive Gateway races and the team has won five of nine races held at the 1.25-mile oval.

While Penske has been outstanding in 2019, this level of oval dominance is different from recent seasons. Last season had four different teams win an oval race. In 2016, a different team won all five oval races and in 2015, five different teams won the six oval races. Every season in the DW12-era but 2017 and now 2019 has had four different teams win an oval race.

Rossi's Mountain to Climb
After his retirement on lap one at Pocono, Alexander Rossi finds himself just outside being eligible for the oval championship and his gap to Newgarden in the overall championship has increased to 35 points with three races remaining.

Rossi has been second in the champion after seven consecutive races with the closest he has been to the championship lead being four points after Toronto with his 35-point deficit entering Gateway being his largest gap to the championship lead since he was 41 points back of Newgarden after Barber.

The only oval race Rossi has outscored Newgarden at this season is the Indianapolis 500, where Rossi's runner-up finish combined with a bonus point for leading a lap and a bonus point for qualifying ninth gave him 82 points while Newgarden scored 67 points for his fourth place finish combined with a bonus point for leading a lap and two bonus points for qualifying eighth.

Since Rossi came to IndyCar in 2016, there have been 21 oval races. In those 21 oval races, Newgarden has finished ahead of Rossi in 12 of those races including the last three oval races. In those 21 races, Newgarden has the advantage with an average finish of 6.42 to Rossi's 7.9. Prior to Pocono, Rossi had 11 consecutive top ten finishes on ovals while Newgarden enters Gateway with seven consecutive top ten finishes on ovals and Newgarden has finished in the top ten in 13 consecutive short oval races with his last short oval result outside the top ten being 15th at Iowa in 2013. Ten of those 13 results have been top five finishes.

SPM Looking For a Rebound
It has been another rough end to summer for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Both James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson finished outside the top twenty at Mid-Ohio and neither driver picked up a top ten finish at Pocono.

These poor results are not new for SPM and this is a continuing trend of disappointing ends to seasons for the team.

Last season, SPM failed to get a top ten finish in the final four races. In 2017, SPM had one top ten finish in the final four races with the team's best finish being eighth in those final four races. The team has not had a top five finish in one of the final four races of a season since Mikhail Aleshin and Hinchcliffe had runner-up finishes in consecutive races at Pocono and Texas.

Hinchcliffe has fallen to 11th in the championship. This is the first time he has been outside the top ten of the championship since after Road America last year. For the third consecutive season, Hinchcliffe is coming off a 20th place finish at Pocono. Ericsson is coming off a 12th place finish at Pocono and he has finished outside the top ten in the last five races.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is on pace to match its fewest podium finishes in a season. In 2015, the team's only two podium finishes came at NOLA Motorsports Park where Hinchcliffe won the race and James Jakes finished third.

Last Chance For Oval Results
Gateway is the final oval race of 2019 and some drivers could get a victory while others are looking to end the oval portion of the schedule on the right note.

While Rossi is the top driver in the championship without an oval victory, Scott Dixon sits fourth in the championship and he has scored the sixth most oval points this season with 123 points. Dixon has only won four oval races in the DW12-era, at Pocono in 2013, Texas in 2015, Phoenix in 2016 and Texas again in 2018. In fact, this will be the ninth consecutive season in which Dixon will not have won multiple oval races in a season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is sixth in the championship but his finishes of 17th and 19th in the last two oval races has Hunter-Reay ninth in oval points. Last season, Hunter-Reay finished outside the top fifteen in the final three oval races of 2018 with a mechanical failure being what led to a retirement at Gateway.

Graham Rahal heads to Gateway with eight consecutive top ten finishes and he could set a personal best streak of nine consecutive top ten finishes. In the 16 oval races since Rahal won at Texas in 2016, he has only three top five finishes but he has 12 top ten finishes.

Takuma Sato heads to Gateway with his last four results being finishes of 22nd, 20th, 19th and 21st. Sato has scored 107 points on ovals this season but only 36 points have come in the last three oval races. Sato's only top five finish on a short oval in his IndyCar career came last year when he finished third at Iowa.

Felix Rosenqvist is the top rookie in the championship entering Gateway with 304 points and ninth in the championship. However, Rosenqvist has yet to finish on the lead lap in an oval race. His four oval starts have resulted in finishes of 28th, 12th, 14th and 22nd.

Sébastien Bourdais sits tenth in the championship on 300 points. Bourdais heads to Gateway with top ten finishes in the last three oval races. Bourdais has not had four consecutive top ten finishes in oval races since he finished in the top ten in all five oval races in 2016.

Santino Ferrucci has been the top rookie in all four oval races this season and he has three top ten finishes on ovals. Ferrucci's oval results has him fifth in oval points with 135 points. He has been the top finishing Coyne driver in three of the four oval races with the one exception being Iowa, where he finished 12th.

Spencer Pigot had a fifth place finish at Iowa but he has finished outside the top ten in the other three oval races. Last year, Pigot had only two top ten finishes on ovals with a second at Iowa and a sixth at Gateway.

Colton Herta has retired from all four oval races this season and these results have left Herta with only 53 oval points this season, tied with Felix Rosenqvist and Marco Andretti for 19th in oval points this season.

Road To Indy
After a month off, the Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 are back for their final oval races in 2019 with each series having five races remaining.

Oliver Askew heads to Gateway with three consecutive victories and the Andretti Autosport driver carries a 45-point lead over Juncos Racing's Rinus VeeKay heading into Gateway. VeeKay has finished third in three of the last four races but he has finished behind Askew in all four of those races and he has finished behind Askew in ten of 13 races this season.

Ryan Norman is third in the championship on 266 points, 83 points behind his teammate. Askew and Norman were 1-2 in the Freedom 100. Toby Sowery sits on 250 points in fourth and Sowery was fastest at the Indy Lights test at Gateway last week. Robert Megennis is fifth in the championship, a point behind Sowey and Megennis was third fastest at the Gateway test.

David Malukas was second fastest to Sowery in the Gateway test and he is sixth in the championship on 209 points. Dalton Kellett is seventh on 190 points with Lucas Kohl eighth on 179 points. The top eight in the championship are all still mathematically alive for the championship.

The 75-lap Indy Lights race will take place at 4:25 p.m. ET on Saturday August 24th.

The Indy Pro 2000 championship has tightened up in recent races with Kyle Kirkwood having won three consecutive races and Rasmus Lindh's championship lead has been decreased to 13 points over Kirkwood. Lindh has five consecutive podium finishes and he has finished in the top four of every race this season.

Parker Thompson has dropped to third in the championship, 48 points behind Lindh. Indianapolis Raceway Park winner Daniel Frost is 59 points behind Lindh with Sting Ray Robb rounding out the top five on 215 points, 69 points behind his Juncos Racing teammate Lindh.

Kirkwood topped the Gateway test at 31.6365 seconds, 0.0278 seconds ahead of Lindh with Kory Enders third fastest, 0.1763 seconds back. Enders' DEForce Racing teammate Moisés de la Vara was fourth, 0.1873 second back and Robb rounded out the top five, 0.2331 seconds off Kirkwood.

Kirkwood will have a new teammate this weekend with RP Motorsport bringing in Artem Petrov. Petrov contested the Toyota Racing Series earlier this year and he won a race. Petrov also ran the opening weekend of the FIA Formula 3 Championship at Barcelona. Petrov was 0.722 seconds off his teammate's top time from last week's test at Gateway.

Juncos Racing has won the previous two years in Indy Pro 2000 at Gateway.

The Indy Pro 2000 race will be 55 laps and it is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. ET on Saturday August 24th.

Fast Facts
This will be the 13th IndyCar race to take place on August 24th and it is the first race on August 24th since Scott Dixon won at Sonoma in 2014.

This is the first IndyCar race to take place on an oval on August 24th since Hélio Castroneves won at Nazareth in 2003.

Rex Mays, Ted Horn and Castroneves each won two races held on August 24th and each driver won at two different tracks. Mays won at Springfield and Milwaukee. Horn won at Hamburg and Milwaukee. Castroneves won at Nazareth and Sonoma.

There have been nine different winners in nine Gateway races.

The average starting position for a Gateway winner is 4.555 with a median of second.

The winner has started on the front row in five of nine Gateway races.

The Gateway winner has started 11th twice.

On only two occasions has the Gateway winner gone on and won the championship. Alex Zanardi did it in 1998 and Josef Newgarden did it in 2017.

Seven of nine Gateway winners went on to finish in the top five of the championship that season. The two exceptions are Juan Pablo Montoya, who won at Gateway and finished ninth in the championship in 2000, and Al Unser, Jr., who won at Gateway and was seventh in the championship in 2001.

Seven different manufactures have won at Gateway and Chevrolet has the most Gateway victories having won at the track three times. Toyota has the second most Gateway victories with two

Honda's only Gateway victory came with Alex Zanardi in 1998.

Seven different nationalities have won at Gateway.

The nine different Gateway winners have come from five different continents.

Three different American drivers have won at Gateway (Michael Andretti, Unser, Jr. and Newgarden).

Two different Brazilian drivers have won at Gateway (Gil de Ferran and Castroneves).

The average number of lead changes in a Gateway race is 8.555 with a median of ten. Six of nine Gateway races have had ten lead changes or more including the last two years.

The average number of cautions in a Gateway race is 4.667 with a median of four. The average number of caution laps is 42.555 with a median of 35.

Possible Milestones:
Will Power is one podium finishes away from 75 podium finishes.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is one top ten finish away from 125 top ten finishes.

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

Josef Newgarden needs to lead six laps to reach the 2,000 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 60 laps to reach 500 laps led this season and he would become the ninth driver to lead 500 laps in a season since reunification joining Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves in 2008, Dixon and Ryan Briscoe in 2009, Dario Franchitti in 2010, Franchitti and Will Power in 2011 and Power in 2014.

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.

Ed Carpenter needs to lead 16 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 12 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden makes it a perfect season for Team Penske, extending his championship lead and putting one hand on the Astor Cup. Santino Ferrucci is not the top finishing rookie. There will not be an accident on the first green flag lap of the race. Qualifying will not be rained out. A Carlin car will finish in the top ten. Newgarden defeats James Hinchcliffe head-to-head, Scott Dixon defeats Will Power, Alexander Rossi defeats Ed Carpenter and Ryan Hunter-Reay defeats Simon Pagenaud. Sleeper: Zach Veach.