Monday, September 30, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Let's Go Deeper into Passing

Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix after more turmoil at Ferrari and a virtual safety car when Sebastian Vettel broke down. McLaren is getting back in bed with Mercedes-Benz. World Superbike had its 800th race, it produced a first-time winner and the championship was clinched this weekend at Magny-Cours. There was a stunning final day of the Blancpain GT Series season in Barcelona. NASCAR had another messy race on Charlotte's roval. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

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:

Street Courses:
2018 (Passes/Passes For Position)
St. Petersburg: 366/283
Long Beach: 200/134
Belle Isle I: 96/82
Belle Isle II: 144/60
Toronto: 184/148

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: 633/428
Texas: 688/242
Iowa: 955/234
Pocono: 135/53
Gateway: 396/137

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.

Road Courses:
Barber: 202/146
IMS Road Course: 214/190
Road America: 161/125
Mid-Ohio: 188/114
Portland: 196/146

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%)

Phoenix: 280/80
Sonoma: 188/148

Austin: 189/144
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:

2018: 4,758/2,422
2019: 3,664/2,168
Change: -22.99%/-10.48%

Let's take into consideration all 17 races:

2018: 5,226/2,650
2019: 4,013/2,457
Change: -23.21%/-7.28%

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.

There is no way to guarantee a certain number of passes will be hit and we should not want that. We should not have to expect a number to be reached to be satisfied. There is no formula for a satisfying race.

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.

Friday, September 27, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: September 2019

We are entering the final quarter of 2019 and a lot is happening. It is the beginning of the end. There is more darkness than light in the North and more light than dark in the South. This time of year always comes around and yet you never feel ready for it.

Many seasons are coming to a close. For most the writing is on the wall. Most know whether 2019 has been a success or a failure at this point. All they can do now is get the most of it.

Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

We start with Formula One because Formula One just ends up making the most news...

Maldonado "expected" to join Ferrari after 2013 talk
I have heard some crazy things in my life but Pastor Maldonado finds a way to say something to top the list.


Not thought.

Not hoped.

Not aspired.

Expected... to drive for Ferrari of all teams!

Maldonado has to rank 108th out of the 108 drivers that won a grand prix.

One victory from his only pole position that came after Lewis Hamilton was disqualified because he ran out of fuel on his cool down lap. One other finish of fifth, three finishes of seventh, four finishes of eighth, two finishes of ninth and three finishes of tenth.

About a third of the points scored in Maldonado's career came in that one victory at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix.

What a character.

Verstappen: Contrarian Rosberg "the new Jacques Villeneuve"
Boom! Nailed it!

We are going to have to listen to Nico Rosberg blow gas out his mouth for the next 35 years the only difference between Rosberg and Villeneuve is Rosberg won the world championship and bolted from all forms of motorsports, not even lowering himself to run as a guest driver in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, while Villeneuve somehow did not win another race in his career for 11 years!

We grew tired of Villeneuve because it was all a flash in the pan and a mesmerizing four years were forgotten because of a decade of failure. We are sick of Rosberg because he is going to thumb his one world championship at us because it is the last thing he ever did.

What a punk.

Steiner admits Haas struggles are 'killing' him
Then he is not going to last long because things are not getting better any time soon and the team kept Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen for 2020.

Every month we have something on Haas and the team is ninth in the World Constructors' Championship. Gene Haas doesn't want the team anymore.

Can we stop the bullshit that there has to be an American team or American manufacture on the grid?

Can we also realize that Gene Haas is just a rich guy burning money and has no clue how to run a race team?

Remember where his NASCAR team was prior to 2009? All that team's success came after Tony Stewart bought in and Haas was in jail for tax evasion.

There isn't a Tony Stewart out there for Gene Haas. Mark Webber isn't walking through that door. Hopefully Nico Rosberg doesn't walk through that door.

This great American experiment is to going to end well.

The seven race-streak that proves Leclerc's usurped Vettel
I thought winning the Belgian Grand Prix and Italian Grand Prix in consecutive weeks were enough. I didn't need seven races to prove Charles Leclerc usurped Vettel.

The only question is how long will Vettel last? He could not stand being a number two at Red Bull for one season. Ferrari is different. The only way up from Ferrari is Mercedes and Mercedes is not hiring when it is already winning races and championships in comfortable fashion.

The real question is what happens 2020 because I cannot see the Leclerc-Vettel pairing lasting to 2021.

From Ferrari to a former Ferrari driver...

Barrichello has Bathurst 1000 on his bucket list
I am tired of bucket lists. Either do it or don't. I am tired of drivers saying he or she would love to do "race X" and then come up with 10,000 reasons why it will not happen.

Shut up and do it.

Now, Rubens Barrichello didn't do that and I should be fair to him.

The problem is it is a different era and it is not only different in that driver movement is more limited but it is different in that a driver cannot just show up and land in a ride.

The Bathurst 1000 is not some open event with 72 entries from around the world. It is a closed event where maybe 28 cars start the race. You have to be in the know. You cannot buy a car and show up. It is one of three options between Ford, Holden and Nissan and these are not something you can buy off the showroom floor and ship to Australia.

Every race is like that now. You cannot show up to Indianapolis with a car you built in your garage all winter. You cannot show up to Le Mans with some spectacular marvel. You cannot run a Buick, Honda, Subaru, Renault or Volvo at Daytona.

These are different times and there is not an easy way to make it easier. The Supercars teams are not going to allow outsiders to come in with some kind of advantage.

Each series is tribal now. Outsiders cannot come in with their own contraptions. If you want to compete you have to run what is allowed. That is how it is now, whether we like it or not.

Staying in Australia...

S5000 wants to lure star drivers for Australian GP
I like the idea. I liked the Formula Thunder 5000 proposal, the origins of this series, when it first came out what seems like five years ago.

I like the idea of an open-wheel car with a massive power-to-weight ratio. I kind of lost interest because it was such a long time to develop and then Supercars had its own Formula 5000 series is decided to develop simultaneously and it got messy. Now that it is on track I am intrigued but this series has to develop an identity.

For the inaugural event at Sandown the series brought out Rubens Barrichello but the grid was mostly domestic Australian racers and there is nothing wrong with that. That should be expected actually but can this championship have an international appeal if it is ten to 12 Australians with two to six international wild cards in each race? Can the series develop a following if the names bringing eyeballs are only around for one event and if it is a different set of attention seeking names each time?

I like the idea of this being an all-star series of sorts, or at least that being the case for this Australian Grand Prix round. I would love Will Power, Scott Dixon, Brendon Hartley, Fernando Alonso, Alexander Rossi, Sébastien Buemi, Naoki Yamamoto and Jean-Éric Vergne all being able to compete against one another and S5000 being the series where that is possible but can these one-off all-star gatherings be enough for the series at large?

Around the globe we are seeing series struggle to attract sizable grid and S5000 cannot become just another 12-15 car single-seater series. If anything, my hope is S5000 can be come the affordable series that creates teams, keeps career going and can become known for 28-34 car grids. That is asking a lot but I think that is what we need heading into 2020.

From one single-seater series to another...

NTT IndyCar Series' 2019 rookie class was one for the ages
I had to look this up because we had Felix Rosenqvist and Colton Herta finish sixth and seventh in the championship, both as rookies. There was also Santino Ferrucci in 13th in the championship and Marcus Ericsson had a runner-up finish as a rookie.

We live in a time of hyper-recency bias where everything that happened five minutes ago is the greatest thing ever all the time but that cannot be the case. We have to look back and have a rational view of where the class of 2019 stands amongst other rookie classes.

So let's look back at other times rookies finished in the top ten of the championship in the last 40 years:

2014 - Carlos Muñoz (8th)
2012 - Simon Pagenaud (5th... although he had a full season in Champ Car in 2007)
2008 - Hideki Mutoh (10th)
2007 Champ Car - Robert Doornbos (3rd), Graham Rahal (5th), Pagenaud (8th), Neel Jani (9th)
2006 Champ Car - Will Power (6th)
2006 IRL - Marco Andretti (7th)
2005 Champ Car - Timo Glock (8th), Andrew Ranger (10th)
2004 Champ Car - A.J. Allmendinger (6th)
2003 CART - Sébastien Bourdais (4th), Darren Manning (9th)
2001 CART - Scott Dixon (8th)
2001 IRL - Felipe Giaffone (6th)
2000 CART - Kenny Bräck (4th... although he had run in the IRL from 1997-99)
1999 CART - Juan Pablo Montoya (1st)
1998 CART - Tony Kanaan (9th)
1996 CART - Alex Zanardi (3rd), Greg Moore (9th)
1994 - Jacques Villeneuve (6th)
1993 - Nigel Mansell (1st)
1990 - Eddie Cheever (9th)
1983 - Teo Fabi (2nd), Al Unser, Jr. (7th), John Paul, Jr. (8th)
1982 - Bobby Rahal (2nd)
1981 - Bob Lazier (9th)

If we narrow it down to the years when multiple rookies finished in the top ten in the championship that leaves 1983, 1996 CART, 2003 CART, 2005 Champ Car and 2007 Champ Car.

I am going to throw out 2003, 2005 and 2007. One, those were during the split and those were not the greatest grids. Champ Car couldn't even get to 20 entries. No offense to the 2007 season because Doornbos won twice as a rookie, Rahal had four podium finishes, Jani had three podium finishes and Tristan Gommendy won a pole position as a rookie. That rookie class did well but seven drivers were rookies in a field that had 17 cars at each race.

In 2005, neither Glock nor Ranger won but both had a runner-up finish.

In 2003, Bourdais won three races and had seven podium finishes. Manning had one podium finish, which was a runner-up finish to another rookie, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Hunter-Reay had one other podium finish that season. The problem with the 2003 CART season is 27 drivers participated in a race that year and of those 27 drivers, 14 were rookies.

The other three to quickly look at are 1982, 1993 and 1999. Rahal was vice-champion in 1982 and he won twice and had six podium finish but the best rookie was Héctor Rebaque in 15th, who won a race at Road America, his final IndyCar start actually. Granted, Danny Sullivan made two starts that year and finished third on debut.

In 1993, Mansell was champion and the next rookie was Andrea Montermini in 18th. In 1999, Montoya was champion but the next best rookie was Cristiano do Matta in 18th, who had two top five finishes.

I think since the introduction of CART, the two rookie classes that rival 2019 are 1983 and 1996.

The class of 1983 makes a very good case for itself. Fab won the most races that season and his five victories put him second in the championship. Fabi also had six pole positions. Unser, Jr. had a pair of runner-up finishes. Paul, Jr. won at Michigan and had three more podium finishes and Paul, Jr. won pole position at Caesars Palace.

Zanardi and Moore lead the class of 1996 and Zanardi had three victories and six podium finishes. Moore had three podium finishes. The problem is the next best rookie was Mark Blundell in 16th and he did well, two top five finishes and he missed three races after an injury in Rio de Janeiro. The next best rookie after Blundell is Eddie Lawson, who had finishes of sixth at Michigan and Belle Isle before his season ended early after only 11 races, leaving him 20th in the championship.

In the last 40 years, I think the top two are 1983 and 2019. What 1983 and all previous seasons have is the benefit of knowing what the careers of these drivers became. The class of 1983 looks good because we know what Al Unser, Jr. did. The same is true of the class of 1996.

We don't know what is next for Rosenqvist, Herta, Ferrucci and Ericsson and let's not forget Patricio O'Ward.

But just going off what happened in 2019 and seeing Herta succeeding in a one-car team that struggled for funding and Rosenqvist run on the heels of his teammate Scott Dixon and prove all the expectations after his Formula Three and Formula E success was not misplaced and the bright spots Ferrucci and Ericsson showed this class was exceptional.

Josef Newgarden to turn laps at Charlotte Roval in his Penske IndyCar
Oof... this doesn't feel ideal.

This doesn't mean IndyCar will be racing on Charlotte's road course. Remember, IndyCar once tested at Daytona, but this is a different time. We have been talking about a NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader for close to a year now. For 69 years this was never a serious possibility. In 2019, heading into 2020, it feels inevitable.

The problem is the Charlotte road course the prime location for it?

I feel we are living in a bit of recency bias and the newest addition to the NASCAR schedule is the answer.

The Charlotte roval is the shiny new toy and it might not be the best solution.

I think for IndyCar the Charlotte roval would be rough mostly because the infield section is tight and low speed. It would be a processional road course section. It is barely good enough for NASCAR.

I think if IndyCar and NASCAR want to run together and run on a road course then go to an actual road course. Do what I have been suggesting: Just add IndyCar to the NASCAR Watkins Glen weekend.

We want IndyCar at Watkins Glen. We want IndyCar at the fastest road courses, the tracks where drivers are always on the limit and where the margin of error is miniscule. That is Watkins Glen, not the Charlotte roval.

Daniel Hemric wants his next NASCAR move to be big
Daniel Hemric did not win a race in two full seasons in the Truck series. He did not win a race in two full seasons in the Grand National Series. Despite all this he made it to the Cup Series and he is probably not going to win a race in his rookie season at the Cup level.

Hemric may be a talented driver but what move can he realistically expect? Not to forget mentioning that all the big seats are taken. Rick Hendrick is not going to be knocking on his door. Neither are Joe Gibbs or Tony Stewart. Hemric was already toward the bottom with Richard Childress Racing but with his record he is not going up.

I think there is a flaw in the system that Hemric made it to the Cup Series that is not entirely his fault but it has also created an environment where the likes of Hemric somehow think they deserve more.

Which leads us to...

'If I'm in winning stuff, I'm going to win races' - Hemric
You have raced for Brad Keselowski Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Your teammate Tyler Reddick won when you were driving for Keselowski and Reddick has stepped into the seat Hemric vacated in the second division and has won five times.

You were in winning equipment, Daniel.

Moving on...

Wolff "didn't believe Formula E could make it"
You were not the only one Toto and now you are in Formula E with Mercedes. You are in it for the long haul now.

Summer has ended. IndyCar has ended. The FIA World Endurance Championship began so that is something to pick up our spirits but that is the exception and not the rule. Soon, more series with end. Silverware is starting to be claimed and the cupboard will start to look bare come the end of October.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Let's Look at the League - September 2019

The IndyCar season is over and for the 2019 season we have been keeping track of a fictional sub-championship where IndyCar was based on head-to-head weekly matches and ended with a playoff and one champion. It was also a two-league system with promotion of relegation.

Over the course of the season we have done these looks at the league and the last time we left you it was heading into the final week of the regular season for the top league and the penultimate week of the season for the second division.

What Did We Know?
We knew the #26 Andretti Autosport entry was being relegated.

We knew the #2 Penske, #9 Ganassi, #28 Andretti, #27 Andretti, #22 Penske, #12 Penske and #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entries were in the playoffs.

We knew the final playoff spot was between the #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan entry and the #20 Ed Carpenter Racing entry.

We knew the final relegation spot was between the #21 ECR entry and the #98 Andretti.

We knew the #19 Coyne, #88 Harding Steinbrenner, #14 Foyt and the #59 Carlin entries were fighting for the two promotion spots.

What Happened Next?
Let's start with what happened at Pocono. and the final playoff spot.

Since Takuma Sato was caught in that first lap accident it gave the #20 ECR entry the final playoff spot with no drama.

It also set the seeding for the playoffs and the playoff match-ups and the first round looked like this:

#2 Penske vs. #5 SPM
#22 Penske vs. #28 Andretti
#9 Ganassi vs. #12 Penske
#27 Andretti vs. #20 ECR

As for the relegation battle, Spencer Pigot had an accident on lap 40 and it meant he would lose his matchup with the #22 Penske of Simon Pagenaud. The bad news for Pigot was Marco Andretti and the #98 Andretti entry had been gifted the victory that weekend, as the #10 Ganassi entry of Felix Rosenqvist was involved in the first lap accident.

This combination of events kept the #98 Andretti entry up while the #21 ECR entry was relegated

Here is what the final standings looked like:

Conference 1
1.) #2 Penske 11-3
2.) #9 Ganassi 10-4
3.) #28 Andretti 8-6
4.) #20 ECR 7-7
5.) #30 RLLR 7-7
6.) #15 RLLR 6-8
7.) #18 Coyne 6-8
8.) #26 Andretti 1-13 - R

Conference 2
1.) #27 Andretti 12-2
2.) #22 Penske 10-4
3.) #12 Penske 10-4
4.) #5 SPM 7-7
5.) #10 Ganassi 5-9
6.) #7 SPM 5-9
7.) #98 Andretti 4-10
8.) #21 ECR 3-11 - R

What About The Promotion Battle?
With victories in the final two weekends of the year, the #19 Coyne entry earned promotion. The #14 Foyt entry and the #59 Carlin entry both won the final two weeks and it led to a tiebreaker for the final promotion spot. With the #14 Foyt entry going 3-0 against the #59 Carlin entry, the #14 Foyt entry moves up and the #59 Carlin entry remains in the second division.

Here is what the League Two standings looked like:

1.) #19 Coyne 10-5 - P
2.) #14 Foyt 9-6 - P
3.) #59 Carlin 9-6
4.) #88 HSR 8-7
5.) #4 Foyt 5-10
6.) #23/#31 Carlin 4-11

Gateway was the first round of the playoffs and it produced a surprise.

With Alexander Rossi's interesting strategy choice, combined with Ed Carpenter's break of not pitting before the final caution, the #20 ECR entry knocked out the #1 seed and the team with the best regular season record.

It was otherwise chalk with Josef Newgarden ahead of James Hinchcliffe, seventh to 12th and Simon Pagenaud was fifth, ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay in eighth.

The other quarterfinal matchup was interesting because it put Scott Dixon against Will Power and they were two of the bottom three finishers. Power was the first one out after hitting the barrier exiting turn four. At the same time, Dixon had a punctured radiator. Who knows what would have happened if both cars had continued without any issues. Power was looking racy that night but Dixon advanced and it set up these semifinal match-ups:

#2 Penske vs. #22 Penske
#9 Ganassi vs. #20 ECR

Both Penske cars were in the back half of the grid at Portland with Newgarden starting 13th and Pagenaud in 18th.

Dixon started third and Ed Jones, who entered the #20 ECR entry started 23rd.

Dixon was quick and pressured Colton Herta for the overall race lead and got it before the first round of pit stops. Close to halfway through the race it appeared to be Dixon's race to lose and then he suffered a mechanical issue and that was it. He was able to re-join the race but three laps down and at that point the #20 ECR entry was out of reach and led to a surprise finalist, despite finishing a lap down in 14th.

In the other semifinal, Pagenaud spun at the start but was able to continue, however, he never really challenged Newgarden, who kept his nose clean and ended up finishing fifth to Pagenaud's seventh.

This set up the #2 Penske vs. the #20 ECR in the final at Laguna Seca

Newgarden started fourth while Jones was starting 18th.

Newgarden remained at the front and since he was running for the actual drivers' championship, he was on the rear wing of Rossi for most of this one. Jones on the other hand was in the middle of the pack and it led to the unfortunate circumstance of being collateral damage when Santino Ferrucci ran into Takuma Sato on the only restart. Jones made contact with another car, went off course and ended up with damaged suspension.

Jones retired after completing 51 of 90 laps and it handed another championship to Newgarden and the #2 Penske entry.

What Does it All Mean?
Nothing. But it is fascinating to look at.

The overall champion was still the champion in this format. The runner-up was 14th in the entrant championship. The two semifinalists were second and fourth in the championship. The other quarterfinalists were third, fifth, eighth and 12th in the championship.

The top entries that missed the playoffs were the #10 Ganassi in sixth, the #88 HSR in seventh, which is in the second division, the #30 RLLR in ninth, the #15 RLLR in tenth and the #18 Coyne entry in 11th.

Looking Ahead
If we just do what we did last year, here is what the 2020 League One breakdown will look like:

Conference 1
#1 Penske
#9 Ganassi
#12 Penske
#30 RLLR
#15 RLLR
#19 Coyne
#20 ECR
#7 SPM

Conference 2
#22 Penske
#27 Andretti
#10 Ganassi
#28 Andretti
#18 Coyne
#5 SPM
#14 Foyt
#98 Andretti

And League Two will be the following:

League Two
#88 HSR
#21 ECR
#26 Andretti
#59 Carlin
#4 Foyt
#23/#31 Carlin

This is all subject to change. Entries could come and go. Nothing is set in stone and it is entirely tentative.

After what happened early in the season it is interesting to see the #88 HSR entry still in League Two with Colton Herta in that car. When Herta won at Austin it seemed he was destined for promotion but plenty of things went wrong at the wrong times in 2019 and that he wasn't one of the best two cars from those six entries is a complete shocker. I don't think that will happen again in 2020. I think the #88 HSR entry will be one of the two promoted teams.

The #88 HSR entry still might be promoted if one of the other entries fold. We aren't rooting for that but it is a reality in the IndyCar system. No team is safe.

This was fun. It is another wrinkle to the series and I think in this changing world this is something IndyCar and other motorsports series should consider adopting. In a world of fantasy sports and gambling where people are not necessarily worried about the outright winner, head-to-head match-ups and having a league structure might get more interested in these series.

I am not saying lets completely get rid of the full season aggregate championship structure but add a secondary championship that complements what already exists. It would make a race more interesting and, instead of just focusing on the leader, the battles on the racetrack could be much more meaningful. The battle for seventh could be a battle for a head-to-head victory and what if you had two or three or six of those in one race and in the closing laps? There would be a great emphasis on battles throughout the field.

Of course, you would need the teams to take this seriously otherwise it is for nothing. There is always the incentive of cash. You could get bonuses for each weekly winner. I am not sure how much would be enough for teams to take it seriously. With how low the purses are in IndyCar I think a $10,000 for each matchup winner would be enough. Then there is a final prize and IndyCar pays $1 million for the overall champion now. It could not give out another million dollars but it would have to be something. Maybe $100,000 for the playoff champion? I am not sure what is enough for these teams to care.

This format could be a change without having to change the fundamentals of a series and a championship. It could be a way to take something that people look at as an otherwise processional affair and dull into something intriguing because the battle for ninth and the battle for 11th could actually be for something. If it gets more people involved and participating in the series then it is worth it.

All we need is the powers at be to embrace it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

2019 Road to Indy Review

Laguna Seca was not only the end of the IndyCar season but all three Road to Indy series. Each series had a handful of drivers that will be around for years to come. Some will make it to IndyCar; others will have careers in other series.

All three developmental series had American champions and we will look at the top eight in each championship. We will go over preseason expectations, what they did in the 2019 season and what each driver should do in 2020.

We will start at the top with Indy Lights, work down to Indy Pro 2000 and end with U.S. F2000.

Indy Lights
Oliver Askew: #28 Andretti Autosport Dallara Mazda (1st, 486 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Askew was fastest at the Austin test and I think he will challenge for the championship. I think everyone has reassessed the Floridian after his Pro Mazda season. Compared to his dominating U.S. F2000 championship in 2017, he took a step back when he moved up to Pro Mazda but if there is one saving grace it is his results improved from the first half of the season to the second and he clawed his way to third in the championship. It was also the first year of the PM-18 chassis and he may have been caught out. I think he is going to win a few races and he will be up there for the championship.
How incorrect was it: Olive Askew won the championship and he won seven races and stood on the podium a total of 15 times out of 18 races.
What he should do in 2020: Askew will be moving up thanks to the scholarship money from his Indy Lights championship. The one issue that stands in Askew's way is the same issue that has been in the way of nearly every Indy Lights champion, securing enough funding for a full season.

Askew will get at least three races, including an entry in the Indianapolis 500, but he is going to want more than three races. No one is going to give him a paying seat. Any full-time effort will come from funding he has secured on his own.

It appears he will not be in Andretti Autosport's future. He did test for Chip Ganassi Racing but Ganassi is not known for giving drivers from the Road to Indy system a fair shake. Note that in 2015 Spencer Pigot tested for Team Penske and Sean Rayhall tested for Ganassi. How are those guys doing with those respective teams?

Askew needs to find the right place to land. He will get three bites at the apple and he must make the most of it.

Rinus VeeKay: #21 Mazda/Jumbo Supermarkets/La Place Restaurants/KNAF Talent First Mazda (2nd, 465 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: VeeKay has come to the United States and taken little time to get acclimated to the scene. He pushed Askew for the title in U.S. F2000 two years ago and last year he was quick and consistent to earn the Pro Mazda title. I don't see that changing. I think he is going to push for a few race victories and he will find himself in the championship conversation with Askew and Claman as his biggest rivals with Norman being a slight outsider.
How incorrect was it: VeeKay was in the championship conversation and he was 21 points off Askew. The Dutchman won six races and he had 14 podium finishes.
What he should do in 2020: VeeKay is likely going to IndyCar and, like reason seasons, it is likely VeeKay will get a full-time seat or at least more starts than Askew. There just seems to be a trend that drivers that didn't win the Indy Lights championship end up racing more than the Indy Lights champion. I think that continues and mostly because VeeKay has more money behind him from the Netherlands.

VeeKay tested for Ed Carpenter Racing and he fits the mold that ECR likes for the road course driver in the #20 Chevrolet. Could he get more than that? Could his Dutch Jumbo Supermarket money get him a full-time ride? If he has it, there are plenty of suitors, especially a team like A.J. Foyt Racing, which has lost its sponsor.

Toby Sowery: #2 Gap Guard/Rich Energy Mazda (3rd, 367 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Sowery is only confirmed for St. Petersburg and his entry is in partnership with Team Pelfrey. Sowery has shown potential. He was third in the 2016 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship behind Matheus Leist and Ricky Collard and the following year he was fourth in the championship. He has dabbled in the Road to Indy before, as he ran the Barber round in U.S. F2000 in 2017. He is a late addition to the grid and he was at the bottom of the timesheet at the Homestead test but if he runs the entire season I think his results will improve significantly from the start of the season.
How incorrect was it: Sowery was third in the championship, 119 points off Askew and results did improve. He had a pair of podium finishes at St. Petersburg but he did not get another podium finish until Toronto. He ended the season with three consecutive podium finishes, including a victory at Portland.
What he should do in 2020: Return to Indy Lights because I think Sowery could be a championship favorite in 2020. This was his first full season in the United States after one U.S. F2000 round in 2017 and one Pro Mazda round in 2018. He had some strong days and he did well on the ovals. He knows the tracks now. Sowery could be on the verge of a breakout.

Ryan Norman: #48 EVO Mazda (4th, 359 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Norman is one of the few Indy Lights experienced drivers on the grid and I think that will pay off for him. Compared to 2017, the grid was smaller in 2018 and that allowed Norman to achieve 13 top five finishes after only having one the year before but he did win a race at Gateway where he beat his teammates Patricio O'Ward and Colton Herta and he won pole position for the second Portland race. I think he will be toward the front but will finish behind Askew in the championship.
How incorrect was it: Norman was toward the front and he finished behind Askew, fourth in the championship, 127 points back. Norman won at Road America and he had three other podium finishes.
What he should do in 2020:  Stay in Indy Lights because Norman is not ready for IndyCar. Norman has been good but not good enough for IndyCar. With how few entries there are in Indy Lights you cannot settle for just being four or fifth. There are eight cars out there. You have to be winning on a regular basis. Maybe Norman can get there in 2020 but right now he has some work to do before moving up to the big time.

Robert Megennis: #27 Palo Alto Networks/CyberArk Mazda (5th, 355 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Megennis has been a respectable drive in the Road to Indy but he has never been the dominant driver. He has made it to Indy Lights with one victory in 47 starts but his championship finishes between two years of U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda are sixth, sixth and fifth and he does have nine total podium finishes. I think he is a good driver and this isn't a deep field. Add to that being with the best team and he will likely end up on the podium a few times. Maybe a race victory falls into his lap but because of the tentative size of the field, he might be in the back half for most of the season.
How incorrect was it: Megennis was fifth out of eight drivers that ran the full season and he won one race, which came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He had six podium finishes this year.
What he should do in 2020: Remain in Indy Lights. Megennis has never stood head and shoulders above anyone in the Road to Indy but he gets solid results. I think a second year in Indy Lights is important but he has to be on the podium more and he has to win more. He is only 19 years old. He still has a few years to develop.

David Malukas: #79 HMD Trucking Mazda (6th, 301 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Malukas has been a bit of a scrapper. He was part-time in U.S. F2000 two years ago and he was competitive. Last year, he won three races but he had a handful of bad days that cost him points. He is moving up with BN Racing, the team he has driven for the last two years and he in the middle at the Austin but off the leaders. I think it could be a trying year as BN Racing learns a new car against a field that has been running it since it was introduced. Malukas could have a few good days and get on the podium three or four times.
How incorrect was it: Malukas only had two podium finishes, a third at Austin and a third at Gateway.
What he should do in 2020: David Malukas turns 18 years old this week. He did a partial season in U.S. F2000 in 2017 and was full-time in Pro Mazda last year. He was running for a new Indy Lights team in 2019. He did well and his Pro Mazda results suggest he is on the same level as Askew and VeeKay. He should be back in Indy Lights next year and if that team takes a step forward it would be great for the series to have winners from more than Andretti Autosport and Juncos Racing.

Dalton Kellett: #67 K-Line Insulators USA, Inc. Mazda (7th, 275 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: This will be Kellett's eighth season in a Road to Indy series and fourth in Indy Lights. He has made 108 Road to Indy starts and his best finish is third on six occasions, including in three consecutive Freedom 100s but all those came with Andretti Autosport. Juncos Racing is good but it isn't Andretti Autosport. He may get another third but he isn't going to finish in the top five of the championship.
How incorrect was it: Kellett was seventh in the championship and he got another third place finish, this time at Toronto.
What he should do in 2020: Move to sports cars. I think Kellett has gotten all he could out of single-seater racing. He has made 126 starts in the Road to Indy system since U.S. F2000 in 2012. He has won zero races, he has eight podium finishes and has only once finished better than third.

It is time to move on and I think sports cars would be a great move for him. He has already competed in the LMP2 class this year in IMSA. That is only a two-car class but he is getting experience and maybe he can find a ride in the European Le Mans Series in either LMP2 or LMP3 or he could run in the LMP3 class in IMSA's Prototype Challenge series. He has talent. It might not be suited for IndyCar but he could have a nice career on the global stage.

Lucas Kohl: #5 Bellko Trading/Kohltrade/IVI Vision Mazda (8th, 253 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Kohl is taking the RC Enerson route and jumping from U.S. F2000 to Indy Lights. I don't think it is going to pay off. He was good in U.S. F2000 but not great and he could benefit from a year in Indy Pro 2000. He was slowest at the Austin test. He may get a hang of the car over the course of the season but I do not think he will be consistently on the podium.
How incorrect was it: Kohl never finished better than seventh this season.
What he should do in 2020: Kohl ran three years in U.S. F2000 and combined for five podium finishes before he leaped over Indy Pro 2000 and joined Indy Lights. He did not finish in the top five once this year in a series that had at most nine cars at a race. His only option is to stay in Indy Lights. I don't see him going down to Indy Pro 2000 if he jumped it. I could see Kohl moving on from the Road to Indy.     

Who should we have seen more of?
Zachary Claman. The Canadian ran the first six races before he pulled out of the championship. Claman won the first race of the season at St. Petersburg. He took a step down after a part-time season in IndyCar in 2018. I thought he did well in IndyCar and I was happy to see him back in Indy Lights because I thought he could challenge for the championship. He averaged 20.667 points per race, which would have been good enough for third in the championship. He would have made the grid better if he ran the full season.

Aaron Telitz. Telitz made a handful of starts after Claman exited Belardi Auto Racing and he also won a race at Toronto. The Indy Lights grid is so thin and it needs all the drivers it can get and if it had Claman and Telitz both run full seasons it would have been better for the series and all the drivers competing.

Cars from anywhere. Indy Lights needs more cars. The series had a quick and fleeting high in 2016 and 2017 when the grid jumped to 14-16 cars per race but it has not had a dozen cars in a race in either of the last two seasons.

Something has to be done and I am not talking about slashing it so it cost nothing for IndyCar teams to enter. The series has to become a sustainable business venture. The series needs more exposure. It needs to be a place where sponsors get exposure. The series needs to be on television, not behind a paywall on a streaming platform for 17 of 18 races.

Indy Lights could be a great avenue for young drivers. It can get drivers to IndyCar but it could also offer Super License points and that could draw drivers from all over the world but in its current state, with at best nine cars showing up none of the drivers are getting Super License points. The drivers are wasting their time and their futures if these results are not recognized by the FIA.

Andersen Promotions has done a great job with the Road to Indy system but it is doing a disservice to the drivers if it can only attract eight drivers to run full-time. Andersen Promotions and IndyCar should be ashamed.

Who have we seen enough of?
I kind of said it above with Dalton Kellett and he was the answer last year. I also realize the cognitive dissonance in saying Indy Lights needs more cars and drivers and then say a driver should move on. If Kellett staying means drivers get Super License points for 2020 then I will fully support it.

Indy Pro 2000
Kyle Kirkwood: #28 Mazda/Firstex Industries/Bell Helmets/Sabelt Mazda (1st, 419 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Kirkwood has the tremendous weight around his neck of winning a championship and moving up and being expected to win another championship and I think he could do it. RP Motorsport will be in its second year in what is now Indy Pro 2000. Last year, the team won with Harrison Scott twice and Scott had six podium finishes in 12 starts. Kirkwood ended the Homestead third overall and I think Kirkwood will challenge for the title and at worst finish in the top three.
How incorrect was it: Kirkwood won the championship off the back of nine victories and 11 podium finishes.
What he should do in 2020: Move up to Indy Lights. Kirkwood had a slow start to the season but he ended strong and he showed he is ready for the next level. I don't want to say he is set to take the quickest climb to IndyCar with three consecutive Road to Indy championships but after a dominant U.S. F2000 and a dominant end to the Indy Pro 2000 season expectations will be high heading into Indy Lights.

Rasmus Lindh: #10 Chicago Pneumatic/PWR Junior Team/SFK Mazda (2nd, 417 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Kyle Kirkwood dominated last year in U.S. F2000, which makes Lindh's results seem less impressive but I think the Swede is a good driver and he will be competitive. Juncos Racing has won this title the last two years and I think Lindh gives the team a good shot at making it three consecutive. It will be tough but I think Lindh wins at least one race and he is on the podium at least six times. While his teammate ended the Homestead test fastest overall, Lindh was consistent and was in the top five for the final four of five sessions.
How incorrect was it: Lindh won three races and he finished on the podium 13 times and he finished din the top five of all 16 races.
What he should do in 2020: Join Kirkwood on the way to Indy Lights. Lindh has had two quiet seasons in his Road to Indy career but he has been at the front. The only concern is we have not seen him have a killer instinct to get victories. When Kirkwood was winning race after race, Lindh was coming home in second and third. Those are great results but when one person keeps winning again and again you eventually have to stop them. Maybe Lindh can do that at the next level.

Parker Thompson: #8 Abel Motorsports Mazda (3rd, 344 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Thompson has been taking his time climbing the ladder. This will be his fifth season in the Road to Indy and the first three were in U.S. F2000. He will be on his fourth team after spending the last two with Exclusive Autosport. The Canadian has finished in the top three of a championship the last three seasons but has yet to win a title. Last year seemed to be his but he had a rough handful of results right when Rinus VeeKay went on a tear. This kind of feels like Thompson has to win the title this year. He is moving to a new team but it doesn't appear to be a hurdle as he was second fastest at the Homestead test.
How incorrect was it: Thompson did not win the title and he finished 75 points off Kirkwood. He swept the opening round at St. Petersburg but did not win again despite having six more podium finishes.
What he should do in 2020: Make it three drivers heading to Indy Lights. Thompson was ready for Indy Lights a year or two ago. He might be the best driver not to win a Road to Indy championship. He had three years in U.S. F2000 and had finishes of second and third in the championship. In two Indy Pro 2000 seasons he has finished second and third. He is a good driver and his lack of a title should not keep him from Indy Lights.

Sting Ray Robb: #1 Go out Local/Big Idaho Potato Truck/OMP/ Mazda (4th, 323 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: This will be Robb's third season in this series. He has the one podium finish. I think he is just a good driver and instead of sliding up into the top tier of drivers in this series the next batch of talent from U.S. F2000 moves in and keeps him in the back half of the top ten. Surprisingly, Robb ended the Homestead test fastest overall and he was second quickest in two of the other four sessions. This could be his best season yet but I am not sure he can keep it up over 16 races.
How incorrect was it: Robb was fourth in the championship with six podium finishes but he did not win a race.
What he should do in 2020: Robb should probably stay in Indy Pro 2000 but not many drivers remain in a series for four years. It almost feels like Robb is going to be forced to Indy Lights, whether it is the right move or not.

Daniel Frost: #68 Den-Jet Mazda (5th, 318 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Frost did not participate in the first day of the Homestead test and in the two Sunday sessions he was running in the middle of the field. I think he will be competing for best out of the Exclusive Autosport drivers but that might be for at best fifth in the championship.
How incorrect was it: Frost was fifth in the championship and he had two victories and six podium finishes.
What he should do in 2020: Stay in Indy Pro 2000. Frost's first year was about what you could expect but he could use another year to learn the circuits.    

Nikita Lastochkin: #90 Russkaya Mekhanika Mazda (6th, 237 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: This will be Lastochkin's third year in this series and fifth in the Road to Indy. He has never won a race and he has two podium finishes in 59 starts but he was around the top five for majority of this test. This might be his best season in this series but I don't think he is a title challenger.
How incorrect was it: Lastochkin was sixth in the championship and never stood on the podium. His best finish was fourth on the IMS road course and at Mid-Ohio.
What he should do in 2020: Start looking to sports cars. Lastochkin has been in Indy Pro 2000 for just as long as Robb and his results have remained the same. It is time to move on.

Kory Enders: #7 MB Sugarland/Caliber Collision/McLaren Houston Mazda (7th, 211 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Enders has been good but has never been great in his two years in U.S. F2000. He was not at the Homestead test. I think he will be a mid-pack driver.
How incorrect was it: Enders started as a mid-pack driver but climbed to the front. In the final five races he finished in third on two occasions.
What he should do in 2020: Remain in Indy Pro 2000 because Enders had some stronger runs later in the season and that could carry over into 2020.

Moisés de la Vara: #6 UAG/I.E.P/MOTUL/JUMEX/Oil Depot Mazda (8th, 198 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: This could be the sleeper of the season. De la Vara looked good in his few starts last year and he was fourth quickest in this test. He could win a race and if he keeps finishing in the top five while Thompson has bad days and Kirkwood might finally have a bad day it could open the door for him to contend for the title.
How incorrect was it: De la Vara's season started with three finishes of sixth in the first four races but his only top five was fourth in the final race of the year from Laguna Seca.
What he should do in 2020: Comeback for another season. De la Vara started off the season well but the results tailed off in the middle of the season. With the additional experience I think de la Vara could make an improvement in 2020.

Jacob Abel: #51 Abel Construction Mazda (9th, 198 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Abel is a young driver and he is still getting a hang of it. I don't think he is going to push his teammate and there will be some days where he will be in the top five and others where he is at the back of the field.
How incorrect was it: Abel had a fifth at Indianapolis Raceway Park and in the final race of the season from Laguna Seca. He had nine more top ten finishes this year.
What he should do in 2020: Comeback for another season. De la Vara started off the season well but the results tailed off in the middle of the season. With the additional experience I think de la Vara could make an improvement in 2020.

Who should we have seen more of?
Ian Rodríguez. The Guatemalan driver had two podium finishes and four top five finishes in eight starts. He very well could have won a race at Road America or Mid-Ohio. He could be a championship contender and a Central American driver is important in the Road to Indy and the ascension of Rodríguez to IndyCar could be big for the series.

While not as bad as Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000 could use a few more cars. The grids were heading in the wrong direction in 2018. Indy Lights should be somewhere between 16-22 entries and Indy Pro 2000 should be from 20-26 entries.

Who have we seen enough of?
We covered Nikita Lastochkin.

U.S. F2000
Braden Eves: #8 MDRN Livery/Community Choice Financial Mazda (1st, 361 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Eves was not far off Keane and I think those two will both be in the top five of the championship with multiple race victories.
How incorrect was it: Eves won the championship with six victories and eight podium finishes.
What he should do in 2020: Graduate to Indy Pro 2000. The season might not have ended the way Eves liked but he has speed. The results did trail off but he was still running consistently well and it was really a bad race in Toronto and an average weekend at Mid-Ohio that made this championship come down to the wire. He will learn and he will continue his growth at the next level.

Hunter McElrea: #22 Mazda/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners Mazda (2nd, 356 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: I think he will be good but his testing results had him toward the back of the top ten. This could be a case where his results improve throughout the season.
How incorrect was it: McElrea started the season with four consecutive podium finishes, seven podium finishes from the first eight races including a victory at Road America and he picked up three more victories and a pair of runner-up finishes. Unfortunately, he lost the title on the last day of the season when he had to start at the back and Eves started third. Eves got the victory and McElrea finished three positions shy of getting the title after finishing seventh in the finale.
What he should do in 2020: Move to Indy Pro 2000. McElrea and Eves were the class of the field in U.S. F2000 this year and both are ready. They rarely put a foot wrong. McElrea ended on a stronger note but he showed the Road to Indy scholarship money was not wasted.

Christian Rasmussen: #6 JHDD/CSU One Cure/Lucas Oil Mazda (3rd, 282 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: This is going to be a fun season in U.S. F2000 because it seems like there are at least six drivers you would not be surprised by if they won the championship and this is one of them. Rasmussen should win a few races.
How incorrect was it: Rasmussen was third in the championship with three victories and he was 79 points off Eves. The Dane had seven podium finishes in the final eight races.
What he should do in 2020: I think Rasmussen is ready for the next level. He had some similarities to Darren Keane in that he was quick but had weekends where something would go wrong at the wrong time. However, he won a pair of races.

Colin Kamiskey: #23 Slicks Locks Mazda (4th, 282 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: If enough drivers run full-time I think Kamiskey finishes outside the top ten of the championship.
How incorrect was it: This was very wrong. Kamiskey was fourth and he had six podium finishes and 11 top five finishes. A victory eluded him but he surprised me.
What he should do in 2020: Remain in U.S. F2000. Kamiskey has made some nice gains over this three years in U.S. F2000 but I am not sure he is ready for Indy Pro 2000 yet. I think he needs to win at this level and then he will be good to move on.

Darren Keane: #2 Cal Development/Keane Architectural Woodwork Mazda (5th, 270 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Keane was the fastest at the Homestead test and he is with the benchmark team when it comes to U.S. F2000. I think his results improve and he wins a few races. It would not be surprising if he was in the championship discussion.
How incorrect was it: Keane had a rollercoaster year. He had speed and then stubbed his toe and had to fight from behind. He had one victory and only four podium finishes.
What he should do in 2020: Move on up to the next level. Keane's results are a tad disappointing because he had more speed than his final points total shows. It seemed like the first four race weekends he had something go wrong in qualifying that put him toward the back of the grid or something would happen when he had a strong starting position. He recovered nicely but his key thing will not repeat that trend.

Manuel Sulaimán: #12 DEForce Racing Mazda (6th, 211 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: Sulaimán was at the top for most of this test and was not far off Keane for best overall time. If he runs the series he should be a title contender.
How incorrect was it: The season started with a second and a third in the first three races but those were his only podium finishes and he had only two other top five finishes all season.
What he should do in 2020: Remain in U.S. F2000 because while he started 2019 strong his results faded. Another year should get him more track time and it will be a chance to improve.

Jak Crawford: #52 DEForce Racing Mazda/#4 Cape Motorsports Mazda (7th, 183 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: (Crawford was not entered until the second round at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and was not included in the Road to Indy Preview).
How incorrect was it: The late addition to the series had five top five finishes.
What he should do in 2020: Crawford is only 14 years old and he was not eligible to run the opening round in St. Petersburg this year. There is plenty of time for him to get to IndyCar. A full season in U.S. F2000 will go a long way. He just has to be patient. His first year in the ladder system showed he has raw talent and a second year in U.S. F2000 will allow him to develop but not be overwhelmed. If Crawford is back with Cape Motorsports in 2020, I think he will be a championship contender.

Bruna Tomaselli: #24 Bruna&Bia Mazda (8th, 174 Points)
What I Wrote Before the Season: I think Tomaselli and Kamiskey will be near each other on the racetrack and in the championship and that will not be toward the front.
How incorrect was it: This was wrong in that Kamiskey was further up the order than Tomaselli. She had one top five finish.
What she should do in 2020: Tomaselli has been around for a while now. This was her third season. Before 2019, she had one top ten finish in U.S. F2000. This year she had ten top ten finishes. She just turned 22 years old. The results do not point that she should move up but she is 22 years old. There are not many 22 years old in U.S. F2000.

Who should we have seen more of?
Cameron Shields. Shields won the Indianapolis Raceway Park race and he was gone after Toronto despite being in contention for the top five in the championship. He had some other good runs on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Road America.

Alex Baron. The mysterious case of Alexandre Baron continues. The 2014 Toronto Indy Lights race winner returned to U.S. F2000 for the third consecutive year and for the second consecutive year he started the year but he could only get to Road America before his season ended. If this guy can win in Indy Lights, he should be in Indy Lights. Let's not forget it has been six years since he won on his U.S. F2000 debut at Laguna Seca. Six years ago it seemed he would be destined for IndyCar and yet he is back where he has started.

Who have we seen enough of?
Alex Baron. I think he is a good driver and I think he should be in something higher than U.S. F2000 but if this is going to be a yearly game of trying to run U.S. F2000 only to not make it through half a season I would rather see Baron try and make it in sports cars because there has to be a place where his talent is seen and properly rewarded.

Looking to 2020
We know Oliver Askew will be going to IndyCar. It seems like Rinus VeeKay will be going to IndyCar. Outside of that it appears the rest of the Indy Lights grid will either return or move out of the system.

The problem for Askew is he is entering a series that really isn't look for full-time drivers. No one is clamoring for this kid and while he has drawn interest from Chip Ganassi Racing, CGR has a history of not sticking around young drivers for long, look at the careers of Alex Lloyd and Sage Karam.

Askew could get three races as a Ganassi driver and then be gone. Ganassi has a young driver in Felix Rosenqvist and while Scott Dixon turns 40 next season I doubt CGR is looking for a predecessor just yet.

VeeKay may have a greater opportunity if he ends up at Ed Carpenter Racing but just as short a leash.  ECR has had five different drivers as the road/street course driver in the #20 Chevrolet for ECR in the team's six seasons of splitting that car with Ed Carpenter driving on the ovals. The only driver to get multiple seasons is Spencer Pigot. VeeKay may be able to turn that ride into a full-time seat but it will be a one-year audition.

Kyle Kirkwood's championship was important because it proved his U.S. F2000 championship could not be chalked to another Cape Motorsports driver coming out on top. Kirkwood moved up and went to the relatively new RP Motorsport. It is likely Kirkwood will move up to another new team and the change of scenery should not be a stumbling block for him.

Juncos Racing will likely be losing an Indy Lights driver in VeeKay but it has two Indy Pro 2000 drivers ready to move up and Rasmus Lindh would be the natural choice to fill that seat.

Braden Eves or Hunter McElrea could have won the U.S. F2000 title. Eves came out on top but it will be a toss up in Indy Pro 2000 next year if both drivers are competing.

The good news on the team front is Exclusive Autosport announced its expansion to Indy Lights for the 2020 season. Andretti Autosport had three drivers in 2019, Juncos Racing had two, Belardi Auto Racing had two for most of the season and BN Racing/HMD Motorsports had two cars. One car from Exclusive Autosport would be good, two would be great but there would still be work to get the grid to a more respectable level.

Next year will be the sixth season for the IL-15 chassis. There is no excuse that the car is too new and there is a shortage of tubs and spare parts. The 2020 season is one where an increase is imperative.

The good news is the Road to Indy got through the first year without the support of Mazda. While grids were low in Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 were not as strong as were are accustomed to seeing, none of the three series appear to be in a dire situation. The ladder system is holding strong but greater support and participation in 2020 are an easy way to clear up any long-term concerns.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: 2019 IndyCar Predictions: Revisited

Josef Newgarden won his second IndyCar championship. Colton Herta picked up his second IndyCar race victory. There were three other champions from the weekend at Laguna Seca and some pretty good races across the board. Elsewhere, NASCAR had a night race. Formula One had a night race. MotoGP had a race from Spain. Blancpain GT World Challenge America raced in the wet at Road America. Super GT raced in the wet at Sportsland SUGO. European Le Mans Series was at Spa-Francorchamps. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

2019 IndyCar Predictions: Revisited
It is the traditional Monday after the IndyCar season finale look back at the season through predictions made in December.

All I can say is this was my worse year yet and it was nearly not this bad.

1. There will be multiple first time race winners in 2019
Wrong! Colton Herta was the only first time winner in 2019 and he won twice! I wish I could spin a teenager winning twice in one season into a correct prediction but I cannot.

It wasn't that other drivers didn't come close. Felix Rosenqvist was second at Mid-Ohio by less than a tenth of a second and he had another runner-up result at Portland. If Rosenqvist was allowed to advance from the first round of qualifying at Laguna Seca he very well may have won that race.

Besides Rosenqvist, Santino Ferrucci was fourth at Gateway on a night where he led 97 laps and the top three finishers all leapfrogged to the front by not making their final pit stops before the final caution for Sébastien Bourdais' spin.

One other shout out to the fourth regular rookie Marcus Ericsson, who was second in the second Belle Isle race. That wasn't a race he was going to win, Scott Dixon had that one covered, but Ericsson still finished second.

Outside of those four, no other driver looking for a first career victory came close. Spencer Pigot had a pair of top five finishes. Matheus Leist lucked into a fourth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Zach Veach was lost most of the season. The winless veterans did not look good in 2019.

2. There will be no more than three cars failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500
Correct! Only three cars failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, all three were Chevrolets and all three had ties to the Carlin operation. The entries for Max Chilton and Patricio O'Ward were outright Carlin entires while the McLaren entry of Fernando Alonso was run in conjunction with Carlin.

Thirty-six cars seemed to be most conceivable entry list total when all the rumors were swirling in the winter months. Remember at one point we were thinking 38 or 39 entries were possible. The engine leases were always going to prevent it from reach those levels though we may have been able to construct a path to those levels.

Eighteen apiece for each manufacture was a good number. The three extra entries allowed for a nail-biting Last Row Shootout and none of the 36 entries were out of place. Any of those cars could have been in the race on another day.

3. Passing will be down in over half the street course races but up in over half the oval races
Correct and wrong! Passing was down at four of five street courses but passing was also down at four of five oval races! The statistics are below:

Street Courses
2018 (Passes/Passes For Position)
St. Petersburg: 366/283
Long Beach: 200/134
Belle Isle I: 96/82
Belle Isle II: 144/60
Toronto: 184/148

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: 633/428
Texas: 688/242
Iowa: 955/234
Pocono: 135/53
Gateway: 396/137

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%)

I am not going to go into a deep dive of these numbers now. I will do that next week but, as I said when making these predictions back in December, we cannot depend independently on the passing numbers to decide whether a race was good or not. There are a lot of things that go into a race and letting passing numbers decide it all is a foolish thing to do.

4. Simon Pagenaud wins multiple races and more than double his podium finishes from 2018
Correct! Pagenaud won three times and he had four podium finishes, up from zero victories and two podium finishes in 2018.

This was the turnaround year Pagenaud was looking for and may have needed. It appears Pagenaud saved his Team Penske seat with an incredible month of May, taking victories in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500. Both performances were magnificent. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis saw Pagenaud run at a demon's pace in the wet. The Indianapolis 500 was a strong outing, one where a late caution created battle with Alexander Rossi with the Frenchman coming out on top.

There is still room for improvement. Four podium finishes is a low total. He had only seven top five finishes. Through the first 11 races his only top five finishes were his three victories.

While the expectations are high for Pagenaud, his consistent record must be noted. In 152 starts, Pagenaud has been running at the finish of 143 races. He has 127 lead lap finishes. He has more victories than he has retirements and he has more podium finishes than he has lapped finishes.

If Penske had let Pagenaud go he would be have gone elsewhere and won races and contended for championships.

5. Will Power will start at least one race outside the top ten
Correct! And Power not only started outside the top ten once but four times, including in three consecutive races from Belle Isle to Texas, the first time he has failed to start outside the top ten in consecutive races since 2008.

Power had an incredible record. He started in the top ten in 33 consecutive races from the second Belle Isle race in 2017 to the Indianapolis 500 in 2019. That is basically two consecutive seasons of top ten starts. No one else is close to a streak of that length.

For all those starts to come in three consecutive races was a surprise, especially with two of them coming at Belle Isle.

6. Sébastien Bourdais has at least three podium finishes
Wrong! Bourdais had one podium finish and it was third at Barber.

That result feels like a lifetime ago. It wasn't a terrible year for Bourdais but after he won the season opener in the previous two seasons, and was highly competitive, 2019 was a step back. He had good days but we didn't have that day where Bourdais was at the front and mixing it up with Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.

Bourdais made only two appearances in the Fast Six this year. He only led 19 laps. He had a good year but IndyCar is tough and a team like Dale Coyne Racing is going to ebb and flow.

He didn't get three podium finishes in 2019 but he very well could do it in 2020.

7. Both Harding Steinbrenner Racing drivers score more points per start than Gabby Chaves
Correct! Kind of...

Unfortunately, we only had one Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver for 2019, as the rug was pulled out from underneath Patricio O'Ward on the eve of the 2019 season.

It is a damn shame because this time last year O'Ward and Colton Herta had not only made their IndyCar debuts but were paraded pre-game at Yankee Stadium as this new lineup for an IndyCar team. Only half the team showed up. O'Ward was left on the sidelines and while he did get in a car for a handful of races, O'Ward 2019 was far from planned.

Herta averaged 24.705 points per race, more than Chaves' 14.384 points per race. Though O'Ward ran for Carlin, he averaged 16.428 points per race. Technically, both announced HSR drivers on January 1, 2019 had more points per race than Chaves.

Speaking of Chaves, that is a name we unfortunately did not hear from in 2019 and that is a shame. Chaves has done well in less than stellar equipment. In his career, Chaves has finished 37 of 39 starts and he has completed 95.6% of the laps in his 39 starts. He is a smart driver and it is bad thing that we did not get to see him anywhere in 2019.

8. There will be at least two races with three rookies finishing in the top ten
Wrong! Amazingly, I got this one wrong and I say amazingly because it happened in the first race of the season and never happened again.

Let's go over the top three rookies in every race in 2019:

St. Petersburg: Rosenqvist (4th), Herta (8th), Ferrucci (9th)
Austin: Herta (1st), Patricio O'Ward (8th), Ericsson (15th)
Barber: Ericsson (7th), Rosenqvist (10th), Ferrucci (15th)
Long Beach: Rosenqvist (10th), O'Ward (12th), Ericsson (20th)
Grand Prix of Indianapolis: Rosenqvist (8th), Ferrucci (10th), O'Ward (19th)
Indianapolis 500: Ferrucci (7th), Ericsson (23rd), Rosenqvist (28th)
Belle Isle I: Rosenqvist (4th), Herta (12th), Ericsson (13th)
Belle Isle II: Ericsson (2nd), Ferrucci (10th), O'Ward (11th)
Texas: Ferrucci (4th), Ericsson (7th), Rosenqvist (12th)
Road America: Rosenqvist (6th), Herta (8th), Ercisson (13th)
Toronto: Rosenqvist (5th), Herta (7th), Ferrucci (11th)
Iowa: Ericsson (11th), Ferrucci (12th), Rosenqvist (14th)
Mid-Ohio: Rosenqvist (2nd), Herta (8th), Ferrucci (12th)
Pocono: Ferrucci (4th), Ericsson (12th), Herta (16th)
Gateway: Ferrucci (4th), Herta (9th), Rosenqvist (11th)
Portland: Rosenqvist (2nd), Herta (4th), Ferrucci (17th)
Laguna Seca: Herta (1st), Rosenqvist (5th), Ericsson (11th)

It nearly happened in the second race. Ericsson was solidly in the top ten before getting a penalty for unsafe pit release. It is kind of hard to fathom how it didn't happen more than once.

Other close calls came at Belle Isle, Texas, Toronto, Gateway and Laguna Seca. Ericsson nearly made it reality at the finale but he just didn't have the tires at the end of his stint. Maybe it would have happened if Patricio O'Ward was full-time. Actually, if O'Ward had been full-time with Harding Steinbrenner Racing, it would have happened at least four or five times.

Though three rookies in the top ten only happened once, the only race not to have a rookie in the top ten was Iowa and there were 12 races with at least two rookies in the top ten. There were 11 races with at least one rookie in the top five including for final five races.

This was a talented rookie class. We may have to go back and see where it ranks but I cannot recall another year where this many rookies were consistent in the top half of the field and at the front.

9. There will not be a race decided under caution, barred rain-shortened races
Wrong! Will Power is to blame. We were good until the final lap at Toronto. If Power doesn't put it in the turn eight tires, we are good on this one. Credit to Power though because he tried very hard to get out of the tires and continue and not end the race right then and there.

10. Honda wins the most races for the second consecutive season
Wrong! Chevrolet took the crown with nine victories.

Team Penske did it on its own and that is not a surprise but a surprise when you consider the strength of the Honda fleet. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Harding Steinbrenner Racing each won twice and Chevrolet still came out on top. What does that say about this season? If you were told RLLR would have two race victories you would likely think Ganassi would have at least three or four victories and Andretti Autosport would have three or four victories as well.

The odd thing about this season is RLLR and HSR had as many victories as Ganassi and Andretti. Scott Dixon won twice and Alexander Rossi won twice. That was it from Honda's top two operations and that is probably a disappointment for each. I am not sure if it leads to questions for Honda or Ganassi and Andretti.

I don't think Honda can be that peeved. It is kind of how IndyCar is and a manufacture can lose a race but not because it was completely outclassed. Texas was a race that in any other year Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rossi or Dixon wins and this year Newgarden pulled it out. At Indianapolis, Rossi lost a one-on-one fight with Pagenaud. In 2014, Hunter-Reay won a one-on-one fight with Hélio Castroneves. Honda and Chevrolet are even. If Ed Jones doesn't end up in the tires at Belle Isle, Rossi likely wins the first Belle Isle race over Newgarden.

Honda doesn't have to go back to the drawing board but Andretti Autosport might have to ask some questions. One driver won a race. The other three drivers combined for two podium finishes and both were at the hands of Hunter-Reay.

The same will not be good enough in 2020.

11. The first caution in the Indianapolis 500 does not come after a lead lap car runs into a lapped car
Correct! It was because Colton Herta had a gearbox failure after three laps and he parked it off course in turn four.

Nobody wants to see a caution that early and nobody wanted to see Herta's Indianapolis 500 debut end after less than ten miles, especially after he qualified fifth!

12. Every driver in the top twenty of the championship starts every race.

How could we have seen what happened in 2019 coming?

How could we have seen Patricio O'Ward losing a ride before the season started, two Carlin cars failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and that leads to Max Chilton stepping away from the remaining oval races and Marcus Ericsson being called to be on standby for the Belgian Grand Prix because Kimi Räikkönen hurt his back and Alfa Romeo needed someone just in case Räikkönen wasn't fit enough?

Maybe there is a reason there has never been a time in IndyCar history none of the top twenty in the championship started every race. Motorsports is too unpredictable.

Five and a half out of 12, less than 50%. That is disappointing. On to next year.

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

Oliver Askew clinched the Indy Lights championship with finishes of fourth and second from Laguna Seca. Rinus VeeKay swept the race victories.

Kyle Kirkwood clinched the Indy Pro 2000 championship with a victory in the first race from Laguna Seca. He retired from the second race after a lap one accident. Rasmus Lindh won the final race.

Braden Eves clinched the U.S. F2000 championship with finishes of fourth and first at Laguna Seca. The first race of the weekend went to Christian Rasmussen.

The #51 Luzich Racing Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Niklas Nielsen and Fabien Lavergne clinched the European Le Mans Series GTE championship after it won in the GTE class at the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Laguna Seca but did you know...

Sebastian Vettel won the Singapore Grand Prix, his first victory of the season and his 53rd career victory.

Marc Márquez won MotoGP's Aragón Grand Prix, his second consecutive victory and his eighth victory of the season. This is Márquez's fourth consecutive victory at Aragón. Brad Binder won the Moto2 race, his second victory of the season and his second consecutive victory at Aragón. Arón Canet won the Moto3 race, his third victory of the season.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR race from Richmond, his second consecutive victory and his sixth victory of the season. Christopher Bell won the Grand National Series race, his seventh victory of the season.

The #22 United Autosports Oreca-Gibson of Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson won the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps overall. The #11 Eurointernational Ligier-Nissan of Mikkel Jensen and Jens Peterman won in the LMP3 class.

The #3 NDDP Racing with B-Max Nissan GT-R of Frédéric Makowiecki and Kohei Hirate won the Super GT race from Sportsland SUGO. The #55 ARTA Honda NSX of Nirei Fukuzumi and Shinichi Takagi won in GT300.

The #61 R.Ferri Motorsport Ferrari of Daniel Serra and Toni Vilander and the #43 RealTime Racing Acura of Mike Hedlund and Dane Cameron split the Blancpain GT World Challenge America races. The #34 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG of Matt Fassnacht and Christian Szymczak and the #77 Park Place Motorsports Porsche of Alan Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman split the GT4 America SprintX races. Michael Cooper swept the GT4 America sprint races.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR ends the first round of the playoffs at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the roval.
Formula One has the second leg of a back-to-back in Russia.
Super Formula has its penultimate round in 2019 at Okayama.
World Superbike has its final round in Europe at Magny-Cours.
The Blancpain Endurance Series season ends with a three-hour race in Barcelona.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

First Impressions: Laguna Seca 2019

1. Colton Herta already had his first career victory but the third time was the charm in terms of converting a pole position into a race victory. Herta had good runs at Road America and Portland from pole position but got the strategy wrong. In both cases he went too long on the alternate tire and lost ground. Today, Herta stayed on top of the strategy and while he faced pressure from the likes of Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power and closed the season with his second victory of the season.

With the Harding Steinbrenner Racing operation being absorbed into Andretti Autosport I think Herta could be a championship contender in his sophomore season. It will be change but Herta won two races, three pole positions and had a handful of other impressive results for a single-car team that was cash-strapped and somehow made it to every single race. We have been quick at times to crown the next generation driver to carry IndyCar's flag, whether it be A.J. Foyt IV, Marco Andretti or Graham Rahal, but Herta is different. He is still young, he is only 19 years old, but he is at another level of maturity than almost every teenage driver to enter IndyCar before him.

Herta made history in 2019 and it feels like more history will come in 2020.

2. Will Power gave Herta a strong fight for the victory but didn't have enough. Power deserves a lot of praise because he started on the primary tire and moved up in each stint. Power was running block but it became clear the championship would be going to a Team Penske driver and Power was given the green light to go after the victory.

Power has had a lot of things go against him the last few seasons. If one of these seasons he doesn't have a mechanical failure while starting on pole position or doesn't spin while running in the top five Power will be a title contender. It has been a while since Power has been in the fight but the speed is there.

3. Scott Dixon had an outside shot at the title but he couldn't get clear of Herta at the start and the unfortunate events did not bite his championship challengers. Dixon had a fight with Simon Pagenaud for what seemed to be 75 of 90 laps and Dixon was a strong veteran, knowing how to take the preferred line away and it ended up with his tenth podium finish of 2019.

This was a championship year for Scott Dixon only for him to end up fourth. Two victories is a little low but he had six runner-up finishes and he had a third at Long Beach to add to this third today. Ten podium finishes is enough most years. This happened to be the year Dixon had a slew of poor results bite him.

He was caught in an accident that was not of his making in the Indianapolis 500 and that dropped him from a top ten finish to 17th. He clipped a barrier in Belle Isle while in contention for a podium finish and instead ended up 22nd. He got together with Colton Herta at Texas while in the top five. At Gateway, debris punctured his radiator on the first stint and instead of fighting for a top five he was 20th. The biggest blow was leading at Portland and having electrical issues take him out of the race, leaving him to settle for 16th.

If you gave Dixon third in that Belle Isle race, fifth at Texas and a victory at Portland that is 80 points into his favor. He lost the title by 63 points. That is not even taking into consideration the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, where Pagenaud chased Dixon down in the wet on a day when Dixon led most of the race and had the best car for 94% of that race. That is another ten points that could have been in his favor. You flip two or three results and this entire championship is run differently.

We cannot flip those results but this was not a year where Dixon took a step back. Dixon was on his A-game in every race. Like other sports, it was a few bounces that went the wrong way that decided it.

4. Simon Pagenaud gave it his all and put pressure on his teammate Josef Newgarden but he could not get clear of Dixon. Other than leading a lap through pit strategy this race, and championship, was out of reach for Pagenaud.

Simon Pagenaud is the driver that belonged in the championship fight and yet still felt like he did not accomplish as much as his other challengers. Pagenaud had a glorious month of May with victories in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indianapolis 500 and to add to it he won the Indianapolis 500 from pole position but despite these results and a victory at Toronto it felt like Newgarden, Rossi and Dixon had all done more.

Outside of Pagenaud's three victories, his only other podium finish was third at Pocono. Outside of those three victories and that third at Pocono, his only other top five finishes were fourth at Iowa and fifth at Gateway. Pagenaud was consistent, he has always been consistent and that kept him in the championship fight. He did not squander the double points earned at Indianapolis. That was the base for his championship hopes.

Double points are a point of contention around IndyCar circles but this is what has been laid out for all the drivers. Pagenaud wasn't given a special path to the championship. There is not one path to the championship. Every path is different and this was Pagenaud's path. He didn't get the Astor Cup but two strong outings in the double-point events got him second, 25 points short.

5. Felix Rosenqvist gets Rookie of the Year and he got it with an incredible drive from 14th to fifth. It appeared Rosenqvist may have ended up on the podium but he did not have the tires late and lost a position to Pagenaud.

Herta won two races and that will be remembered over Rosenqvist's Rookie of the Year but Rosenqvist was outstanding this year. People were writing him off at the end of May and he ended up sixth in the championship, five points ahead of Herta.

If Roseqnvist doesn't get that penalty in qualifying, he would have been in the Fast Six and he probably would have been on the front row with Herta, although I think he would have won pole position and I think he could have pulled out the victory.

That victory is coming in 2020.

6. Alexander Rossi got stuck with the championship contenders and he could not break away. Rossi didn't have the pace to go to the front and force Newgarden and Pagenaud to chase him. Rossi was stuck and that seems to be the theme of his second half of 2019. Rossi didn't lead a lap in the final seven races. His last lap led was the final lap at Road America, a dominant victory where he led 54 of 55 laps.

On top of it, Rossi had no help. While Newgarden and Pagenaud had Power in the mix and Rosenqvist climbed up to the aid of Dixon, none of the other Andretti Autosport drivers were there for Rossi, which is ironic. Last year, all of Rossi's teammates were at the front and Rossi blew it, cutting a tire down at the start. This year, Rossi was at the front and had no help. With no help all he could do was get to the lead and run but he couldn't do that. Once he was stuck in third he was a sitting duck and Newgarden remained on his rear wing because Newgarden knew that would be enough.

This was a disappointing season for Alexander Rossi and that is tough to say because he still finished third in the championship, 33 points off Newgarden. The year started with all eyes being on Alexander Rossi. After narrowly losing the title to Dixon in 2018, a title that very well could have been his, it seemed like 2019 would be the year he would claim it.

Rossi played it smart. He did not have as many poor races where he coughed up points because of instead of finishing on the podium he ran wide and finished sixth or seventh but while he played it smart, got strong results, it was not enough. He only won two races. Newgarden beat him twice in races that should have been Rossi's. The first Belle Isle race and Texas could be all we need to look back on when discussing how Newgarden won this title over Rossi.

There were other blips but nothing significant against Rossi. Austin was the first missed opportunity. At worse, Rossi was going to finish second but a caution before his final pit stop shuffled him down to 13th and he could only climb to ninth. At Pocono, he was caught in a first lap accident and cost him a shot at a load of points. The one time Rossi left points on the table was at Gateway. Instead of making his final pit stop under yellow and dropping from fifth to ninth and having at climb his way to the front in the closing laps, Rossi tried to stretch it because Newgarden was just ahead of him. Instead, Rossi had to stop under green and he finished a lap down in 13th.

This feels likes a missed opportunity. It was a season full of missed opportunities. There are the three in the paragraph above; the two races Newgarden won where Rossi was second and then the Indianapolis 500, another second place finish. Rossi didn't really put a wheel wrong. Everyone makes a mistake or two in as season but in a case where he minimized his mistakes he just fell short again.

7. Before we get to the man of the hour, we come to Sébastien Bourdais, who went from 19th to seventh with a hurt neck. Bravo. He falls two points shy of tenth in the championship but it was a valiant effort.

8. At the start of the season, after Josef Newgarden won the season opener at St. Petersburg, I wrote about how Newgarden was an afterthought when it came to being the poster boy for IndyCar. It seemed like the focus had shifted to Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi, which was understandable because both are top drivers but when it came to the 2019 championship discussion, it was only Dixon or Rossi. Somebody may have thrown out Will Power because Power was coming off an Indianapolis 500 victory but Newgarden seemed to be forgotten.

This was the year Newgarden made us remember. It was not that 2018 was a horrible year for him. He won three races in an unsuccessful title defense but again finished fourth in the championship and yet we kind of forgot about him. We forgot his ability to string together results and bring the car home and in a top spot.

Newgarden didn't do it alone. This championship falls a lot on Team Penske president and Newgarden's strategist Tim Cindric. It was a season of timely class that shifted championship control into Newgarden's favor and it started in the first race of the season. Newgarden was behind Felix Rosenqvist and Will Power but those two got stuck behind lapped traffic. Newgarden made a pit stop and closed the gap so when Rosenqvist and Power stopped Newgarden was ahead of those two.

It happened again at Belle Isle. In the first race, Newgarden was on pit lane when Ed Jones ended up in the barrier. Rossi and Dixon had yet to make a pit stop. Newgarden cycled to the lead and with a damp track off line he was able to hold off Rossi.

At Texas, Newgarden was running in the top ten but he was not a challenger at the front until a caution came out. Newgarden had a choice to stretch it and make it on three stops or split the closing laps and doing it on four stops. Cindric made the call to split it. He made a third stop under caution and then ran hard. While other cars made their final pit stops under green, Newgarden kept flying and with the benefit of a short stint he was able to make that fourth pit stop and come out in the lead. From there, he was able to hold off Rossi when at no other point in the night was Rossi trailing the Tennessean.

Newgarden played from a position of power all season. He led the championship after every race but the Indianapolis 500, where he was second, a single point behind Simon Pagenaud. Newgarden raced today from a position of power. He stayed on Rossi's rear wing, following him for basically 90 laps. When Rossi stopped, Newgarden stopped. Rossi was a sitting duck.

This was Newgarden's year and another well-earned championship that squashes any concern that Newgarden would be a one-hit wonder.

9. James Hinchcliffe finishes ninth, and he also tweaked his neck, and this caps what was a disappointing season and now begins an interesting offseason. If Hinchcliffe remains in the Arrow McLaren SP fold the results have to improve. The 2020 season is a contract year and 12th in the championship with one podium finish and that podium finish being his only top five finish is not going to save him come 2021.

I think Hinchcliffe is a lame duck no matter what in 2020, unless he wins the Indianapolis 500 and has a chance at the championship at Laguna Seca. McLaren is going to use him to work out the kinks and then dump him come 2021 for a driver the team desires.

Perhaps Hinchcliffe can get out early. It might be his best move.

10. Ryan Hunter-Reay rallied from stalling on his first stop. Hunter-Reay fell to 24th but got back to tenth. He will end tied on points with Herta for seventh in the championship but Herta's victories gives him the better championship finish.

This is almost a changing of the guard. Herta officially enters the Andretti fold and he finishes leveled with the elder statesman. This is the third time in the last four seasons Hunter-Reay did not get a race victory. He had the pace at times but it seems to be dwindling. He turns 39 years old in December. Will Hunter-Reay have one more surge or will the decline continue? It is sad to see. It happens to every driver. I think we all hope he has another two or three good years in him.

11. Marcus Ericsson missed out on the top ten by a spot and Ericsson had a really good day. He was an early commitment to the three-stop strategy and it got him solidly in the top ten but he had to run longer on each stint and he lost a little ground each time. He had to run the longest final stint and he dropped to 11th.

Ericsson had an up and down rookie season but it was not terrible. He gained a lot of experience and it appears he is not in McLaren's plans for this team in 2020 but he would be a smart hire.

12. Graham Rahal was on the cusp of the top ten all race and he finished 12th. That was enough to get Rahal tenth in the championship. It was another good but not great year for Rahal. The season started strong but Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing did not have the same pace that it had at the start of the year.

The team had a great outing at Barber and that weekend it seemed RLLR might have been a top team on road and street courses. Perhaps, 2019 was the start and it will build off this year into something better in 2020.

13. Max Chilton did not get a top ten but for him to finish 13th after starting tenth is a great result for him.

Carlin has speed. The team had respectable outing after respectable outing with a few drivers. If this team finds two quality drivers I think Carlin could have someone pushing for the top ten in the championship.

Chilton still seems to be in play at least for road and street courses, which means Carlin would have only one driver competing for championship position. This was not the greatest sophomore season but it was not as bad as it appeared, even though the team had two drivers miss the Indianapolis 500.

14. Marco Andretti was strong and he went from 22nd to 12th in the opening stint but his car was not fully filled the first time and it forced him to stop early again. The fact he still finished 14th is an impressive day.

15. Charlie Kimball was 15th. Not good but not terrible. I think Kimball could be a driver that gets a full time seat. He doesn't light the world on fire but he brings the car home and normally further up the order than where he started.

16. We are going toe pit the rest of the field in chunks: Tony Kanaan was 16th and Matheus Leist was 17th. That is the definition of A.J. Foyt Racing's season: The two drivers were never far apart but never far up the order. Zach Veach had a terrible sophomore season and 18th to cap it off seems right. Veach has one more year left with Andretti Autosport. The team is expanding to five cars. He might be the odd man out regardless of what he does in 2020 but if his results do not improve the team will not have any problem cutting the dead weight.

17. Jack Harvey had a better year than 19th in the finale will show. Meyer Shank Racing had a great showing and I hope MSR and Harvey are full time in 2020. Spencer Pigot was 20th in what was a tough year for Ed Carpenter Racing and Ed Jones retired after an off-road excursion. I think Ed Jones is gone and Pigot is going to have to pick it up in 2020. Conor Daly had a spin bring out the only caution. He was doing well, running on the edge of the top ten.

18. Santino Ferrucci drove into the side of Takuma Sato on the lone restart into the hairpin. This was really Ferrucci's only on-track mistake in 2019, it just happened in the final race and gave him his worst result. To make it worse for Sato, he went from sixth in the championship to ninth. His previous best championship finish was eighth. This was a missed opportunity for Sato.

19. Let's end with Laguna Seca. It was nice to be back and this was a more lively event than almost every Laguna Seca race to come before it. The tire degradation was spot on. The opening of a stint was calm but when the tires started to wear cars starting moving around. It is still a difficult place to pass but we still saw passes.

I am not sure it will ever get back to the old days. It was a nice crowd but there is still room for more if they want to come in 2020. Was this a better location to end the season than Sonoma? I think so. I felt right being back at Laguna Seca. Those are the sights we need to see, the Corkscrew, the flowing nature of the circuit, the marine layer blowing in kind of unexpectedly.

It was nice to be back and I can only hope Laguna Seca grows. I want this to be the start of something great. IndyCar has struggled in developing a great season finale location. Laguna Seca was once that place. After 15 years away we have to start somewhere and I think this was a good start.

20. And that is it for 2019. The next race is March 15, 2020 at St. Petersburg. It is so far away but it will be here before we know it. Over the coming months we will look back at 2019 and since it is the final year of the decade we will also look back at the entirety of the 2010s for IndyCar. It was an eventful decade, from the early years of reunification to the transitioning to the DW12-era and then aero kits and then this period of historic event revivals that will continue into 2020 with the return of Richmond.

We will look ahead and we will look behind. It is fitting that the season ends on the final day of summer. The sun sets with plenty of memories and hopes for the future.