Let's Go Deeper into Passing
With the introduction of the universal aero kit in the 2018 season, IndyCar started touting passing statistics.
The first race of the universal aero kit at St. Petersburg had 366 passes, 283 for position. The numbers left everyone's jaws on the floor. St. Petersburg is only a 110-lap race and it had more than three passes a lap on a street course. The entire 2017 Formula One season had 435 overtakes! People were stunned and the floodgates opened. It became a weekly statistic shared to the world.
When going over the IndyCar predictions for the 2019 season we went over passing statistics on street courses and ovals. One of the predictions focused on what I thought would be a decrease of passing on street courses in the second year of the universal aero kit but a rise in oval passing because the oval package was going to see some revisions, which were meant to help the stability of the cars, especially on the larger ovals.
When it was all said and done, the numbers pointed that street course passing was down but oval passing was also down. The numbers are below:
2018 (Passes/Passes For Position)
St. Petersburg: 366/283
Long Beach: 200/134
Belle Isle I: 96/82
Belle Isle II: 144/60
St. Petersburg: 117/73 (-68.03%/-74.2%)
Long Beach: 95/40 (-52.5/-70.14%)
Belle Isle I: 86/85 (-10.41%/+3.65%)
Belle Isle II: 146/97 (+1.38%/+61.667%)
Toronto: 168/121 (-8.69%/-18.2%)
Indianapolis: 584/323 (-7.74%/-24.53%)
Texas: 579/200 (-15.84/-17.35%)
Iowa: 579/263 (-39.37%/+12.39%)
Pocono: 161/109 (+19.25%/+105.66%)
Gateway: 275/169 (-30.55%/+23.35%)
There were a few changes in the calendar with road courses where Laguna Seca replaced Sonoma and Austin came on the schedule in place of Phoenix. Through ten races, the numbers were trending in the wrong direction. How do the numbers look after including road courses? I think it is important to make head-to-head comparisons with the five road course races that were on both schedules and look at Austin and Laguna Seca separately first.
IMS Road Course: 214/190
Road America: 161/125
Barber: 147/121 (-27.22%/-17.12%)
IMS Road Course: 249/189 (+16.35%/-0.52%)
Road America: 191/175 (+18.63%/+40%)
Mid-Ohio: 159/110 (-15.42%/-3.5%)
Portland: 128/93 (-34.69%/-36.3%)
Laguna Seca: 160/145
Let's look at the number of passes that took place in 15 races that were on the 2018 and 2019 schedule:
Let's take into consideration all 17 races:
The numbers are in and passing was down. What does it mean?
I am sure some of you will see the numbers and think IndyCar is heading in the wrong direction but is that the case?
There is a problem with letting the passing numbers dictate whether or not things are rosy or not in the neighborhood. For example, I think a few of the 2019 races were better than what we saw in 2018 with less passing.
Start with the Indianapolis 500 because after the 2018 race, people were upset and a little afraid because it was not what we had seen from 2012 to 2017. We did not see periods when the lead would change ten times in 15 laps. It was not a race of constant movement up and down the running order.
Look at the 2019 race and I did not hear the same amount of clamoring over the lack of passing. People were more enthused with the 2019 race and it ended up having less passing. People are going to remember the finish though between Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi and really the entire battle between Pagenaud and Rossi and Rossi driving with one hand gesturing to Oriol Servià while heading into turn one.
Take a look at Mid-Ohio. This year's Mid-Ohio race was one of the best Mid-Ohio races we have ever seen and I think one of the best races of the decade. We had a photo finish, a margin of victory that was under a tenth of a second and there were fewer passes than 2018, the race where Alexander Rossi led 2/3rds of the race and won by 12.829 seconds. And each race was caution-free!
The numbers are difficult to understand. The first Belle Isle race in 2019 was shortened to 43 laps from 70 laps due to a time limit and it had 10.41% fewer passes but the number of passes for positions were up. Consider that Pocono in 2019 was shortened by 72 laps due to rain and it had more passes than the 2018 race that went the full 500-mile distance and the 2019 race had double the number of passes for positions than the 2018 race.
Each race has different circumstances and it leads to fluidity in the numbers. The one Belle Isle race was shortened. Pocono was 72 laps shorter in 2019 but the 2019 race had three restarts, versus two in 2018, not a big change and not all those passes came in that one extra restart but it created more opportunities. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis was dry to wet in 2019 and on top of that it had three restarts versus two the year before. The last two Road America races have been caution-free but this year saw more passes and more passes for position.
When it comes to interpreting the numbers we have only have two years worth of data to compare. The races in 2019 were either going to see an increase or decrease to 2018. In that context it was either going to be a win or loss but it is much more complicated than that. Barber this year had fewer passes than 2018 but we don't how it compares to 2017 or 2016 or 2015. We don't know how the 2018 season as a whole compares to 2017, 2016 or 2015. The truth is we do not know a lot and yet we know enough to think we have all the answers.
The same is true for specific races, such as Texas, Iowa, St. Petersburg and Long Beach. The 2019 races could be above average for those respective tracks and 2019 as a whole could have been above average but we do not know and that is something we have to keep in mind.
Passes are not everything though when it comes to determining whether or not a race is good or great or enjoyable and that last one is most important. We all want passing. We don't want a race where 22 cars start and then run in formation for two hours with the only changes coming because someone messed up a pit stop or because someone stopped a lapped early than another car but there is not a criteria to whether or not a race is good or great or enjoyable.
Each race happens and sometimes it is spectacular and sets crazy numbers and others are rather bland. We never know what we will get.
We know a race is good, great or enjoyable in the moment. We do not watch a race and then check the numbers and see if it hit the specific number of passes or passes for positions or lead changes to determine if it was good, great or enjoyable. We know it. We feel it.
Champion From the Weekend
Jonathan Rea clinched his fifth consecutive World Superbike championship after a pair of runner-up finishes and a victory in Magny-Cours. Toprak Razgatlioglu picked up his first World Superbike victory in race one and he won the Superpole race as well. Rea's fifth championship is the most in World Superbike history.
The #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini of Andrea Caldarelli, Marco Mapelli and Albert Costa won the 3 Hours of Barcelona and in turn Caldarelli and Mapelli won the Blancpain Endurance Series championship and the Blancpain GT Series.
Nyck de Vries clinched the Formula Two championship with a victory in the feature race at Sochi. De Vries followed it up with a runner-up finish in the sprint race to Luca Ghiotto.
Robert Shwartzman won the Formula Three championship at Sochi with a runner-up finish in the first race to Marcus Armstrong. Jüri Vips won the second race ahead of Armstrong and Shwartzman.
Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened in Barcelona, Magny-Cours and Sochi but did you know...
Chase Elliott won the NASCAR Cup race from Charlotte, his third victory of the season. A.J. Allmendinger won the Grand National Series race.
Kenta Yamashita won the Super Formula race from Okayama, his first victory of the season.
Lucas Mahais won the World Supersport race at Magny-Cours, his first victory of the season.
Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR starts another round at Dover.
MotoGP starts its Asia-Pacific swing in Thailand.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season ends at Hockenheim with some guests from Japan.
We have the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship season takes place at Fuji.
World Rally Championship heads to Wales Rally GB.