Thursday, October 31, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: October 2019

We are fifth-sixths of the way through 2019 and a few more trophies have been handed out. A few more will be distributed in the coming weeks. Here, north of the Equator, sunlight is diminishing and temperatures are dropping. Soon, hibernation will not seem so bad.

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.

For the second consecutive month we start with Formula One because Formula One loves making waves...

Teams at odds over post-2024 F1 engine formula
We haven't even gotten the 2021 regulations settled and we are already at odds over 2024?

Can these teams agree to one thing at a time before moving toward the future? If you already know there are conflicts over the 2021 regulations, why is anyone looking ahead to 2024?

This feels like someone seeing the struggle currently taking place and then realize it has to be done all over again for something that will be coming three years later and they are already dreading it.

Can anything come easy in Formula One? I understand technical regulations and engine formulas are not as simple as picking out a new pair or shows or weighing whether or not to get 2% milk or whole milk but there has to be a common interest all the teams can be used as a base and then compromise can start occurring in these negotiations.

And now the technical regulations could be pushed to 2022. What is another year of negotiating going to accomplish? The clock is ticking.

Haas vital to F1 from U.S. standpoint - Brawn
No Haas isn't.

Has anyone tuned into to Formula One because of Haas? Are there any Haas fans watching these races and, if so, why are you a masochist?

I understand Haas is the "American team" but there is no reason why any American should be proud of this team or let Haas be the main reason you watch Formula One.

No one is celebrating Haas in this country. We really do not care. People show up for Ferrari and Mercedes and even Red Bull to an extent. Why? Because Ferrari and Mercedes are symbols of luxury in this country and Red Bull is a symbol of a hyperconnected, tech culture that has risen and with that an increased consumption of energy drinks.

What does Haas symbolize in this country? Avocados!

Haas isn't even the Haas the American people know. This is just some guy, who has made hundreds of millions of dollars in something dull, didn't pay taxes that one time and plastered his name on a Formula One team and he isn't even sure he wants to be in Formula One spending the money!

And Haas was already reportedly interesting selling the team to some Saudi Arabians!

If Haas is vital to Formula One in the United States than Ross Brawn better come up with Plan B quickly.

Suzuka shows two-day F1 weekend could work - Grosjean
In that case Romain, don't the races where Lewis Hamilton went from the pit lane to third in Hungary and went from 21st to third at Spa-Francorchamps and Fernando Alonso went 22nd to seventh in that same race as Hamilton and that time Sebastian Vettel went from 20th to fourth in Malaysia show that reverse-grid qualifying races could work?

A longer discussion about reverse-grid qualifying races will be coming next week but if we are going to use one abbreviated weekend, forced because of the weather, as a reason for two-day weekends then we can do same when it comes to justifying reverse-grid qualifying races.

How Ferrari threw away another golden victory chance
Sebastian Vettel jumped the start but somehow did not trigger the sensor but that start-stop-start beginning of the Japanese Grand Prix allowed Valtteri Bottas to blow by into turn one and in turn two Charles Leclerc made contact with Max Verstappen, causing front wing damage, forcing a pit stop and then led to a five-second penalty and a 10-second penalty applied to Leclerc after the race.

Once again, Ferrari beat itself. It can be applied to Russia and Mexico as well. Ferrari has a lot of things it needs to figure out before 2020. It has been 12 seasons since Ferrari won a World Drivers' Championship. Maybe 13th time will be the charm.

Yamamoto admits F1 run detracted from SF/SGT efforts

You ran one Friday practice.

How could that detract from a Super Formula and Super GT schedule where you had the weekend before your Friday practice run off and your next race was two weeks later?

I understand a lot goes into driving a Formula One car and driving it well. You have to do simulator work, which likely meant flying to the Toro Rosso factory in Italy and you had to read the instructor's manual and sit in on long teleconferences to be a part of the team but it was only one weekend.

How does this one run detract from the seven Super GT races and the six Super Formula races that preceded it?

I think Naoki Yamamoto is a tremendously talented driver but I think what this one weekend meant to his 2019 season at large is slightly exaggerated.

Vergne: "Logical" for eco-minded Hamilton to join Formula E
But what about the capitalistic Lewis Hamilton? Is it logical for the capitalistic-minded Hamilton?

Hamilton has "no interest whatsoever" in Formula E

Now, if Mercedes said it would pay Hamilton $70 million a year to race Formula E, probably his tune changes. As for now, Hamilton knows where he will make the most money as he tries to save the world via a vegan diet.

But if you offer him $30 million a year in a hamburger sponsorship, perhaps you can change his dietary habits as well.

No immediate plans for IndyCar on Charlotte Roval
One, IndyCar should never run the Charlotte infield road course.

If NASCAR and NBC really wants a combined weekend with IndyCar than IndyCar should use it to go to a track it wants, otherwise known as Watkins Glen. Settling for the Charlotte roval would be brutal.

Two, in 2020 the Charlotte weekend is moving from the last Sunday in September to the second Sunday in October. Charlotte was already a week after the scheduled IndyCar season finale. Next year there will be three weeks between the IndyCar finale at Laguna Seca and the autumn weekend for NASCAR in Charlotte.

Three, why would IndyCar make its season finale take place during a combined weekend for NASCAR? I think if you are IndyCar and crowning you champion you want it to be the highlight of the weekend. Let's not forget that this would drag the IndyCar season on for another month. IndyCar doesn't want to end any later than it already ends.

Unless Charlotte moves to late-July or the middle of August Charlotte is not going to be the place for a combined weekend and I do not see IndyCar going to Charlotte on its own.

INSIGHT: How LaJoie found his voice in podcasting
By opening his mouth. It is not that hard finding your voice. You don't even need a podcast to do it. All you need is other people around you and participating in a conversation.

Speaking of podcasts, when is that bubble going to pop? Is there a market for all these podcasts? Are people really tuning in to hear what Corey LaJoie has to say? Ryan Blaney has a podcast. James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi have a podcast. I think Ricky and Jordan Taylor did a podcast. I think Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan did a podcast. Do all these drivers need podcasts?

This isn't just a motorsports-related item. There are podcasts for everything. How they all survive is questionable and it paints a picture of the 21st century society: Everyone has something to say but how many people are actually listening?

Miami Will be the Home of the First Dedicated Racing eSports Arena
Do we need this?

What is the point of this?

Is there a clamoring for this?

How is this going to be self-sufficient?

It might not even get built but of all the things going on in the world, of the things people need in the world, I am not sure a dedicated racing eSports arena is one of them.

That is kind of a low note to end on but we move on into November and there is not much left. Seasons end and seasons will begin. Life rolls on.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Team Penske's 2019 Season

The final IndyCar Wrap-Up is the championship team and for another year we conclude with Team Penske. For the sixth consecutive season Team Penske had at least a share for the most victories. The team won its 18th Indianapolis 500. It was another rosy year for The Captain in the IndyCar division.

Two championships in three seasons at Team Penske ain't bad for Josef Newgarden
Josef Newgarden
After falling back to fifth in the championship in 2018 following his 2017 IndyCar championship in his first season with Team Penske, Newgarden rose up and reminded people he is still around. He took the championship lead on day one of the season and only relinquished it after one race where he trailed by only one point. It was all Newgarden from June onward.

What objectively was his best race?
The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series champion won four races, St. Petersburg, the first Belle Isle race, Texas and Iowa.

What subjectively was his best race?
Tim Cindric deserves a lot of credit for this championship because in three of Newgarden's four victories he went from not leading to leading after pit cycles and in each case once he got the lead he did not concede it.

In the season opener, Newgarden was running third or fourth but nowhere near Felix Rosenqvist and Will Power. Newgarden did make his first stop at the right time and got out in clear track while Rosenqvist and Power were negotiating traffic. Newgarden carved into the gap and flipped track position. Rosenqvist and Power made their pit stops and returned behind Newgarden.

The first Belle Isle race was more timing than anything else but Cindric had to make the call and when Newgarden hit pit lane, Matheus Leist slid into the tires. Caution was out, Newgarden cycled to the lead and with a damp track off the racing line Alexander Rossi did not have a prayer of getting back ahead of Newgarden.

Texas was brilliant strategy from Cindric. Newgarden was going to have to make four pit stops but instead of making four stops under green he burned one stop under caution and put himself back a few positions. However, Newgarden was able to run hard while everyone else made their final stops under green. This pace from Newgarden, along with his penultimate being a shorter stint, allowed for him to flip track position into his favor again and he made his final pit stop under green flag conditions and retain the lead. A few cautions bunched up the field but again Newgarden was able to hold off Rossi and take the victory.

I realize none of the above answers the question of what was Newgarden's best race subjectively speaking but I think it is Texas because Cindric's call turned what was going to be a less than memorable night into a victory for the team and solidified this team's championship push.

What objectively was his worst race?
It was the second Belle Isle race where Newgarden faced the pressure of having to keep a charging Rossi and James Hinchcliffe while exiting the pit lane. Newgarden took the inside line into turn three on cold tires and calamity followed.

Rossi spun, Newgarden was always going to run into the tires and Hinchcliffe collided with Newgarden just sending the American deeper into the barrier. It was game over right then and there and a top five finish turned into a 19th place finish after a retirement.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It was not so much that these were poor races but misfortune at the wrong time.

The first mistake was at Mid-Ohio. Newgarden was fourth at the start of the final lap. He was set to extend his championship lead but when Ryan Hunter-Reay got bogged in lapped traffic Newgarden made a move for third into the keyhole. Newgarden just got it a tad wrong. He got into the side of Hunter-Reay and spun in the gravel, stalling the car and turning a fourth into a 14th.

The second bit of misfortune was at Gateway. He was probably going to finish fifth and this wasn't entirely his fault as Santino Ferrucci ran wide and came down in front of Newgarden. It was more evasive action for Newgarden than a mistake as instead of running into Ferrucci, damaging both cars and putting both drivers at risk for injury, he spun and lost two spots, finishing seventh.

Mid-Ohio is the worst of the two results because Newgarden didn't have to go for it and it bit him. It was a case of Newgarden biting off more than he could chew. The good news for him is the dam did not burst on him after that summer day in Ohio.

Josef Newgarden's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 1st (641 points)
Wins: 4
Podiums: 7
Top Fives: 12
Top Tens: 14
Laps Led: 490
Poles: 2
Fast Sixes: 6
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 5.8125
Average Finish: 5.6471

Though 2019 did not end in a championship, Simon Pagenaud had plenty to smile about
Simon Pagenaud
After having his second winless season in four years with Team Penske, Pagenaud was put on the chopping block during the 2019 season and many were casting him aside. However, Pagenaud had as great of a season as you could have for Team Penske without winning the championship. He saved his job in May. That is all that has to be said.

What objectively was his best race?
Simon Pagenaud won three races, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis 500 and Toronto. The latter two races were won from pole position.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is hard for an Indianapolis 500 victory not to be a driver's best race of a season but that is the case for Pagenaud.

Pagenaud won the Indianapolis 500, and it was a memorable battle between him and Rossi with Pagenaud taking the checkered flag after leading over half the race, but what he did in the wet in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis was phenomenal. He was 5.5 seconds behind Scott Dixon with six laps to go. He annihilated the gap to Dixon and made his move for the lead in turn nine with just over two laps to go and then ran away to win by over two seconds.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis is what sets off what was a historic month of May for Pagenaud. Now, if Pagenaud had finished second in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis does it mean his Indianapolis 500 would have been all that different? I don't think so but the persistent talk for the entire 2018-19 offseason and the first two and a half months of the 2019 season was the precarious situation Pagenaud found himself in at Team Penske having not won a race in 2018, his second winless season in four years with the team.

Many were readying Pagenaud for unemployment and in the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway he silenced all doubters.

What objectively was his worst race?
It was Circuit of the Americas, where Pagenaud started 22nd and finished 19th. It was a rough race for Pagenaud and right when it appear things were turning around late, he and Rossi made contact while Rossi was carving his way back to the front after having to make his final stop under caution. Pagenaud had damage and had to make an extra pit stop, relegating him to 19th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is Austin, although he did suffer damage on lap one in turn three in the second Belle Isle race and that put him behind the eight ball from the start. Repairs were made and he completed 58 laps but that was only good enough for 17th.

Simon Pagenaud's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 2nd (616 points)
Wins: 3
Podiums: 4
Top Fives: 7
Top Tens: 15
Laps Led: 268
Poles: 3
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 9.0625
Average Finish: 6.5294

It was a strong end to 2019 for Will Power
Will Power
For another season, Power showed pace but had plenty of headaches. For every day he was quick he had a day where he stubbed his toe. Some were mistakes of his own. Other bad days were the equipment failing him again, something he has had trouble escaping since he won his first, and so far only, championship in 2014.

What objectively was his best race?
Power had two victories this season, the first came at Pocono and the second came at Portland.

What subjectively was his best race?
Neither of Power's two victories this season were all that dominant. At Pocono, he led 31 of 128 laps but when it was go time, when it was clear rain was going to play a role in deciding the race, Power and his team took control. They went for it and were racing for the rain. Power put himself in the right position when lightning entered the area and with the timing of the lightning, the timing of the rain and the proximity to sunset the race was called early with Power declared the winner.

Portland was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Scott Dixon broke down when Power was second and Power inherited the lead. He led 52 of 105 laps and did not face much of a challenge once Dixon's day was done.

What objectively was his worst race?
It was a 24th place finish at Austin after leading the first 45 of 60 laps because he broke a driveshaft exiting his pit box on his final stop.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It was a 24th place finish at Austin after leading the first 45 of 60 laps because he broke a driveshaft exiting his pit box on his final stop.

This is the kind of results Power is becoming known for in the last three seasons. This was a race that Power controlled and it was either going to be him or Rossi taking the victory with the other finishing second. It was going to come down to the final stops for these two drivers but the caution for Felix Rosenqvist's spin came out before either could stop. Both were caught out and were bound to be shuffled back. The car breaking on Power only added insult to injury.

I really thought about making Austin Power's subjective best race of 2019 because it was subjectively his best race of 2019. He led the first 2/3rds of the race from pole position and he did it with Rossi breathing down his neck. Power had to be precise on every lap on what was an unfamiliar and rough track in Austin and he didn't put a wheel wrong. It was a combination of bad timing and faulty equipment that ruined his day.

Another race to mention is Toronto. Power was bad at Toronto. He got into the tires in turn eight on lap one and he got into the tires in turn eight on the final lap. It was not his greatest day in Canada.

Will Power's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 5th (550 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 6
Top Fives: 8
Top Tens: 11
Laps Led: 239
Poles: 3
Fast Sixes: 7
Fast Twelves: 9
Average Start: 5.9375
Average Finish: 8.9412

An Early Look Ahead
Team Penske is going to be fine. Newgarden will be back, Pagenaud will be back and Power will be back. Pencil in another eight victories for this team in 2020.

All three of these drivers are going to be championship contenders. We just don't know which one will start the best and carry momentum throughout the season. However, all three drivers have things to improve on.

Power has to stop making mistakes and avoid the mechanical issues. It always seems to be him with the mechanical issues at Team Penske. It is not directly on Power but that team has to figure out what goes wrong and a way to prevent it from continuing to pop up during races.

Pagenaud needs to find that extra gear for more of the season. He won three races in 2019 but he had only four podium finishes. That is not a lot. Takuma Sato had four podium finishes and he wasn't really a championship contender.

It is a team sport but Newgarden has to go out and not use his team as much. Newgarden needs to get to the front of a race and stay there.

There is also the case that Newgarden has two championships with the team and the one thing that is lacking from his three seasons at Team Penske is an Indianapolis 500 victory. As important as the Indianapolis 500 is, let's calm down that Newgarden has won it yet. He is turning 29 years old just before this Christmas. He has a lot of time left. Also remember that it took Power a decade with Team Penske to win the Indianapolis 500.

There is not much else to say about this team. All three drivers are secure for at least the next five seasons. The team is out of the Alexander Rossi sweepstakes for at least the next two or three seasons and then it will come down to whether or not the team wants to expand to four cars.

Team Penske finds itself at one of its highest points. The team has won three of the last four championships, four of the last six titles and three of the last five Indianapolis 500s. The 2020 season will see Team Penske attempt to win three consecutive championships for the third time in organization history having previously done it from 1977-79 and from 1981-83. The team will attempt to win three consecutive Indianapolis 500s for the second time having previously done it from 2001-03.

There is plenty left on the plate for this team to achieve and do not be surprised if Team Penske is the final team review at the end of the 2020 season.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Andretti Autosport's 2019 Season

The penultimate IndyCar Wrap-Up looks at the only four-car team on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series gird and it is Andretti Autosport. It was another close season for the team with Alexander Rossi in the championship fight until the final lap at Laguna Seca but once again the team left Northern California trophy-less and outside of Rossi, the team's results took a dip.

Despite more success, Alexander Rossi exits 2019 still searching for a championship
Alexander Rossi
Rossi again found himself at the front of the grid on a regular basis and proved to be one of the championship players all the way through the finale. Despite a few dominating performances and frequent quality finishes, Rossi again saw the Astor Cup handed to another man when the season came to a conclusion.

What objectively was his best race?
Rossi won two races in 2019, Long Beach and Road America. Both were beat downs.

It was Rossi's second consecutive Long Beach victory and it was somehow better than his 71 laps led from pole position the year before. Rossi led 80 of 85 laps. It was a race that was never in doubt. He won by 20.2359 seconds over Will Power.

At Road America, he led 54 of 55 laps from second on the grid. If it weren't for Graham Rahal staying out an extra lap on his final stint Rossi would have led every lap and it would not have been close. This wasn't a race where Rossi stayed in front with the field on his tail but unable to get pass him. Rossi pulled away. No one came close to Rossi after about lap one and he took victory by 28.4391 seconds, coincidentally, over Power.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is not one of his victories. It is the Indianapolis 500. Rossi very well could have two Indianapolis 500 victories by now, perhaps three even. He has gelled to the 500-mile race discipline the same way Juan Pablo Montoya did 20 years ago.

This year at Indianapolis was another spectacular showing from Rossi and though he did not come home with the victory he had a memorable drive for the second consecutive year. It wasn't the 32nd to fourth performance he had in 2018 but Rossi controlled this race from second position in the latter half. When it became apparent that the Honda engine had superior fuel mileage, Rossi took control and it got him the lead. He pushed the Chevrolets of Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter to run faster than the Chevrolets would like and it flipped the field into Rossi's advantage.

Rossi could run at a pace the Chevrolets could match but not sustain and for a brief moment Rossi was pulling away but one caution changed everything. We will never know what would have happened if Graham Rahal and Sébastien Bourdais made it through turn three on lap 174 of the Indianapolis 500. At that point, it appeared Rossi, who overcame two re-fueling issues on pit stops and entered turn one with one hand flailing out of the cockpit in anger at Oriol Servià, was going to leave the Team Penske cars and Carpenter in his dust and then the caution neutralized the advantage.

The final 14 laps were an elegant battle between Pagenaud and Rossi. The caution laps conserved enough fuel for Pagenaud to go ten-tenths in the stretch. Rossi did all he could to hold the advantage but Pagenaud got out front in turn three on the penultimate and broke the draft every chance he got. The marathon became a sprint and Rossi was left to settle for second.

What objectively was his worst race?
The Grand Prix of Indianapolis, where Patricio O'Ward ran into the back before Rossi before the green flag, causing damage that forced Rossi to stop on lap one and lose multiple laps and all he could manage was a 22nd place result.

What subjectively was his worst race?
The final seven races because after that dismantling of the field at Road America Rossi didn't lead another lap all season.

The title was his for the taking. Josef Newgarden was not that much better over the final seven races. He won at Iowa but he did not have another podium finish. Rossi had two podium finishes in the final seven races and on four occasions he finished ahead of Newgarden but when it was time for Rossi to grab control of the championship battle he didn't.

In Rossi's defense, he could have flipped things at Pocono but his race didn't make it through turn two of lap one but even then he had six other chances. The only race the team should be kicking itself for coughing up points is Gateway. Boneheaded pit strategy cost Rossi a definite top ten finish and brought him home in 13th. Newgarden only finished seventh that night.

Portland was set up for Rossi to take advantage with Newgarden failing to advance from the first round of qualifying but Rossi followed it up with failing to advance from round two. He could have put the car on the front row and put ten positions between him and Newgarden but it didn't happen. He went from seventh to third but Newgarden went from 13th to fifth. It didn't help that Newgarden was gifted six positions from cars taking each other out.

At Laguna Seca, Rossi couldn't get to the front and Newgarden started on Rossi's rear wing and was fine staying there. It didn't matter though. Rossi could not get higher than fourth and then he lost spots to the charging Power and Felix Rosenqvist.

Rossi corrected many mistakes from the 2018 season that cost him that championship but he lost a little off his fast ball and he just didn't have it for the title in 2019.

Alexander Rossi's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 3rd (608 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 7
Top Fives: 11
Top Tens: 14
Laps Led: 182
Poles: 2
Fast Sixes: 7
Fast Twelves: 9
Average Start: 5.6875
Average Finish: 6.3529

Another good but not great year for Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay
After putting up a hard fight to retain the number one spot at Andretti Autosport in 2018, Hunter-Reay took a step back in 2019 and conceded the role of team leader to Rossi. Hunter-Reay again failed to find himself on the top step of the podium for the third time in the last four seasons.

What objectively was his best race?
Hunter-Reay was the third-place finisher in two races. The first was at Austin, where Hunter-Reay started in the top five and he ran fourth most of the race before the only caution moved Hunter-Reay into a podium position when Will Power and Alexander Rossi were shuffled back.

The other was at Mid-Ohio, where Hunter-Reay moved from tenth to third. He was able to run a little more aggressive strategy and jump his way to the front.

What subjectively was his best race?
It has to be Texas, a race where Hunter-Reay led 90 laps, the only race Hunter-Reay led all season.

Hunter-Reay ran aggressive and was going for a four-stop strategy because of tire falloff but the tires did not fall off as expected and he was not going to get the number of cautions needed to help him make it. He reached a point of no-return but, unfortunately, did not capitalize on the Zach Veach caution like Newgarden did. Hunter-Reay didn't hedge and make his extra pit stop under caution. He stayed out and while Hunter-Reay ended up making his final stop under one of the later cautions, Newgarden won while Hunter-Reay could only make a late rally to fifth.

What objectively was his worst race?
Surprisingly, Hunter-Reay, who has made a career of having mechanical gremlins bite him at the wrong time, had only one retirement due to a mechanical issue all season and it was an engine failure in the season opener at St. Petersburg. It left him with a 23rd place result.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I think there is a good case for Texas because Hunter-Reay probably had the best car that night and misplayed the strategy. However, I will give Portland a mention because he started in the top five and made a boneheaded mistake defending his teammate Rossi into turn one. He was so focused on his mirrors and defending that he missed his braking point, locked up and took out Jack Harvey.

Harvey was done. Hunter-Reay was able to continue but lost multiple laps due to repairs and because of a penalty but his mistake also gifted another two positions to Newgarden, allow the Penske drive to get little closer to Rossi in the championship. Rossi didn't needed that. Rossi was in a three-on-one situation when he needed a wingman most.

Ryan Hunter-Reay's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 8th (420 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 10
Laps Led: 90
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 9.875
Average Finish: 10.588

Times were tough for Marco Andretti
Marco Andretti
This was Andretti's 14th season in IndyCar and it was another tough season for him. This was the fourth consecutive where he did not score a podium finish. It was the second season in the last four where he did not score a top five finish. This was the third time in the last four seasons he finished outside the top ten in the championship. It has been over eight years since his most recent victory.

What objectively was his best race?
Andretti had sixth place finishes on two occasions. The first came at Austin where he started 20th and the second was in the second Belle Isle race, where he started 19th.

What subjectively was his best race?
The second Belle Isle race was better than Austin. Andretti was a mover at Belle Isle. He made passes early and really worked his way into the top ten and that sixth place finish.

The difference between that and Austin is the one caution at Austin definitely benefitted Andretti greatly and inflated that finish a tad bit. At Austin, Andretti may have gotten a top ten but ninth or tenth at best. That caution gave him a few more spots. He still had to hold on and bring the car home in sixth but Belle Isle was the better drive of the two.

I do think it is important to note that Andretti had five top ten finishes in 2019 and those five top ten finishes were these two finishes in sixth and then three finishes in tenth at Texas, Toronto and Gateway.

What objectively was his worst race?
It was 26th at the Indianapolis 500, a race where Andretti got the set up wrong and fell like a rock from the start.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is Indianapolis but for more than the bad result. It is Indianapolis because of everything that was riding with this year's race.

It was the 50th anniversary of Mario Andretti's only Indianapolis 500 victory. Marco had a tribute livery to the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winning STP Brawner Hawk his grandfather drove. The car was revealed on The Today Show. Marco qualified tenth and in less than five laps it became clear this dream result was not going to happen.

I think qualifying tenth made it worse because Andretti had the pace. It was not inconceivable the morning of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 that Marco Andretti could pull off an iconic and timely victory. It was not a crazy bet. However, it was over in the opening minutes of the race and not in a bad way. The car did not fail on Andretti; it just didn't have the legs.

This is actually a problem that has kind of followed Andretti. We have not seen him have a solid oval race where he is at the sharp end of the field in the last four seasons.

Marco Andretti's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 16th (303 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 16.625
Average Finish: 14

Zach Veach's results went in the wrong direction in 2019
Zach Veach
Veach returned for his sophomore season in IndyCar and unfortunately for him he did have a slump. His championship finish dropped three places from 2018. His average starting position was a spot and a half worse than 2018. His average finish was 1.7 spots worse than his rookie year. He had three retirements after finishing every race in 2018 and he had only six lead lap finishes after having eight as a rookie.

What objectively was his best race?
It was a seventh place finish at Iowa where Veach's car got better with each lap of the race and he climbed from 20th to seventh.

What subjectively was his best race?
Iowa was the only race where Veach was racy all season. It is the only race that stands out where Veach was passing people and going forward.

He did have eighth place finishes in both Belle Isle races and in the first one he spun on the final pace lap and threw away a seventh place starting position and had to rally to eighth. In the second race Veach started third and he fall back a bit but finished eighth.

Despite all of that, Iowa is the only race where Veach really left an impression in a positive way.

What objectively was his worst race?
It was 29th in the Indianapolis 500 when Veach was one of too many innocent bystanders who had their races disrupted because of Graham Rahal and Sébastien Bourdais coming together in turn three. To be honest, it is not like Veach lost a great result because of this incident. He was not really mentioned all race up to that point.

What subjectively was his worst race?
There are a few options here. The first I will mention is Austin because he started ninth and spun off on lap one and never could rally. It also didn't help that he lost a lap and then damaged his wing after contact with Scott Dixon.

Another bad race was Texas, where Veach was likely going to finish in the top ten and then brushed the wall, similar to what he did last year. He had a strong car and took himself out before it had really got dark at the track.

The final one I will mention, and this isn't Veach's fault at all, is Portland because Veach qualified 11th and he was taken out in turn one when Graham Rahal ran into him from behind. It is more of a what might have been for Veach and having a race stolen after a matter of seconds.

Zach Veach's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 18th (271 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 4
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 15.875
Average Finish: 15.765

An Early Look Ahead
Looking back at the numbers, Rossi was about equal to Newgarden. Both drivers had seven podium finishes and 14 top ten finishes and Newgarden had 12 top five finishes to Rossi's 11. The difference was Newgarden got four victories to Rossi's two and Rossi twice finished second to Newgarden. Now, the championship did not come down to that. We could flip Rossi and Newgarden in the first Belle Isle race and Texas and Newgarden still would have taken the title but Rossi was there.

A problem was the rest of the team because Rossi had no wingman in the closing races. When it came time for someone to get between Rossi and Newgarden at Laguna Seca Rossi had nobody. All three Penske cars were at the front of the grid and made it very difficult for Rossi to take the title. The rest of the Andretti cars were barely inside the top ten or outside of it altogether.

The team took a step in the wrong direction in 2019 and it has to get its footing for 2020. Colton Herta will officially be under the team umbrella after the merger with Harding Steinbrenner Racing but the team needs Hunter-Reay to find his footing and get back to being a contender for race victories. The team needs one of Andretti or Veach to become a regular top ten finisher.

Hunter-Reay turns 39 years old in December. Andretti will only be 33 years old when next season starts. It is not the oldest team on the grid but it does need its drivers to step up because of the top six teams in the championship there were three of three Penske entries and two of two Ganassi entries and Rossi was the lone Andretti entry carrying the flag.

This team can turn it around but if it doesn't in 2020 I think changes will be coming in 2021. After all, Veach is in a contract year and a sophomore slump was the last thing he needed.

The fight between Rossi and Herta will be interesting. For the last two seasons we have pegged Rossi as the next new IndyCar champion and he has gone to the finale in both years with hopes but left with no hardware. Herta had one of the most memorable rookie seasons since Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999 and he very well could be a championship contender at 20 years old in his sophomore season.

It is setting up for Herta to steal Rossi's thunder. It would be crushing to see Rossi, after two seasons of being one of the best on the grid, lose the championship to Herta in Herta's first season as Rossi's teammate. Crueler things have happened in this world and in IndyCar but the introduction of Herta to the Andretti stable only increases the pressure on Rossi but I think that is a good thing.

We have seen Rossi rise to the occasion and take over the number one driver role at Andretti Autosport. If anything, adding Herta will only make Rossi stronger. It will give Rossi that running mate to keep him honest. Herta will push Rossi and Rossi will have someone to chase when Herta has the better car at a given racetrack.

Rossi and Herta could be a pair that steals too many points from one another and leads to another Penske or Ganassi title or it could lead to an Andretti Autosport driver winning the championship for the first time since 2012.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: You Might Not Want to Hear This About the Aeroscreen

For the first time since 2003, the World Rally Drivers' Champion is not named Sébastien, as Ott Tänak clinched the title with a runner-up finish in Rally Catalunya. Mexico provided another intriguing Formula One race but the championship battle will continue north to the United States. Scott McLaughlin had a big accident at Surfers Paradise that slowed his championship push until Sundown next month. Super Formula has a Kiwi champion. European Le Mans Series had a championship determined after the checkered flag. NASCAR drivers keep touching each other. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

You Might Not Want to Hear This About the Aeroscreen
Three tests are down, one in the rain and a return to Richmond has already occurred and the aeroscreen will get one more outing at Sebring next month with Sébastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe.

So far, so good for the aeroscreen, with Scott Dixon and Will Power giving it an outstanding mark of approval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway the first time out at the beginning of September. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud went to Barber Motorsports Park and, unexpectedly, got to run in the wet and found visibility to be optimal, even better than the current visibility levels in the wet in Pagenaud's words. Dixon and Josef Newgarden went to Richmond, which doubled as a chance to get reacquainted with the 0.75-mile oval, and both left the test with positive results.

The drivers are happy. The teams are happy. Firestone is happy. The series is happy. You mind as well be happy as well. Unfortunately, happiness is harder for some.

The critics were out at the first test about the aeroscreen. It was ugly. It was going to turn people away. It was going to confuse people. It was going to lead people to stop watching. It did not belong in IndyCar.

There were other critiques but the loudest were over the aesthetics. The aesthetics were never the point of the aeroscreen. The point of the aeroscreen was to protect a driver's cranium from debris and other outside influences that make contact with a driver while in competition.

The aeroscreen is the next evolution of an IndyCar the same way Ray Harroun introduced the rearview mirror in the 1911 Indianapolis 500, the same way the riding mechanic was eliminated in 1938, the same way seat belts became mandatory, the same way the fuel cell and maximum fuel capacity was introduced to ticking time bombs lapping the race track, the same way the engine shifted from in front of the driver to behind the driver and cars sprout wings in the 1970s.

An IndyCar has never been one look. The car Simon Pagenaud drove to victory this past May was 1,210 pounds lighter, less than a foot longer, less than a foot wider, had over five fewer liters of engine displacement and 16 inches shorter than the Marmon Wasp Harroun drove to victory 108 years ago. The closest thing these two have in common is the color. In-between these victories, many different cars of all kinds of shapes and sizes have competed in IndyCar. Some even sported a windscreen of sorts, albeit much smaller and less developed than what IndyCar will roll out in 2020.

Open-cockpit has never been a thing. It has been a rhetorical creation by a segment of the population to invalidate the introduction of the aeroscreen in order to preserve this false identity of an IndyCar. There is no definition of what an IndyCar is supposed to be. As said above, the cars have varied in looks for more than a century. If the aeroscreen is somehow a faux pas how are any of the cars of the last 25 years with the drivers firmly fixed in the car any better when for decades drivers had shoulders and elbows exposed?

Not every objector is there because of looks. Some have safety concerns when it comes to extracting a driver from a car or a driver being able to get out when the car is on fire.

When was the last serious fire in IndyCar? If you say Simona de Silvestro at Texas, realize that was in June 2010. It is a once in a decade thing now. Cars do not go boom like they did in the 1960s. The safety teams are prepared for those incidents.

As for driver extraction, it might be longer and we might be facing a scenario where a driver dies because it takes an extra three seconds to remove a driver but while the aeroscreen may take a life it may save three drivers who otherwise might have been fatally injured if it did not exist. It is a morbid way of looking at the situation and hopefully that is not the case. The safety team will work its hardest to make sure no lives are lost.

IndyCar is still going to be dangerous even with the aeroscreen. It is decreasing a possible risk the same way the HANS device decreases the risk of basilar skull fracture. Risk is still going to be there and there are always going to be those unpredictable accidents, such as Anthoine Hubert's accident at Spa-Francorchamps in Formula Two last August. We have a chance to protect drivers with the aeroscreen. Debris striking a driver in the head is preventable. There is no possible way to completely eliminate injuries and fatalities from motorsports but if we have a chance to prevent drivers from being hit in the head shouldn't we do it?

Drivers have a right to make sure they have the best work conditions. The drivers know the risk but if they have a chance to protect themselves and their livelihood they should seek it. Drivers are no different for any worker. Motorsports is dangerous and there are risks that come with it but the same is true for construction workers, factory workers and firefighters. All are risky jobs but each profession does all it can to make sure every worker has the most protection from possible injury.

What should be remembered is people will get used to the aeroscreen the same way the halo is accepted as a part of a Formula One car. We got used to the SAFER Barriers around every racetrack. We got used to the safety car being deployed at every caution. This will soon just be what it is and if you do not get used to it then the next generation will get used to it.

Sports change. The American League has had the designated hitter since 1973. Helmets were made mandatory in the NHL in 1979 and there hasn't been a helmet-less player in a game since Craig MacTavish in 1997. A three-point arch has graced the hardwood in the NBA since 1979. The NFL has been taking extra point attempt from the 15-yard line since 2015. We adjust. It looks different but it is the same. The aeroscreen in IndyCar will be no different.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about Ott Tänak but did you know...

Lorenzo Dalla Porta clinched the Moto3 world championship with a victory at Phillip Island. It was Dalla Porta's third victory of the season.

Nick Cassidy won the Super Formula championship with a runner-up finish in the finale at Suzuka.

The #28 IDEC Sport Oreca-Gibson of Paul-Loup Chatin, Paul Lafargue and Memo Rojas won the European Le Mans Series LMP2 championship with a victory in the 4 Hours of Portimão.

The #11 Eurointernational Ligier-Nissan of Mikkel Jensen and Jens Petersen  won the European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship with a sixth place finish at Portimão and a nine-lap penalty to the #13 Inter Europol Comeptition Ligier-Nissan of Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore after bronze-rated Martin Hippe did not complete the minimum drive time. The #13 Ligier had finished second on the road and would have won the class championship had the result stood.

Randy Krummenacher clinched the World Supersport championship with a fifth place finish in Qatar.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about a handful of race winners and champions but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Mexican Grand Prix, his tenth victory of 2019 and the 83 victory of his Formula One career.

Marc Márquez won MotoGP's Australian Grand Prix, his fifth consecutive victory and his 11th victory of the season. Brad Binder won the Moto2 race, his third victory of the season. Moto3 race.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Martinsville, his seventh victory of 2019. Todd Gilliland won the Truck race, his first career victory.

Tomoki Nojii won the Super Formula race from Suzuka, his first victory since Sportsland SUGO in 2014.

Esteban Guerrieri, Norbert Michelisz and Johan Kristoffersson split the World Touring Car Cup races from Suzuka.

The #6 360 Racing Ligier-Nissan of James Dayson, Ross Kaiser and Terrence Woodward won the LMP3 class at the 4 Hours of Portimão. The #51 Luzich Racing Ferrari of Fabien Lavergne, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessandro Pier Guidi won the GTE class, the team's fourth victory of the season.

The #888 Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden of Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes and the #97 Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden of Shave Van Gisbergen and Garth Tander split the Supercars races from Surfers Paradise.

Jonathan Rea swept the World Superbike races from Qatar, giving him five consecutive victories to close the season and a record-tying 17 victories in 2019. He ties the record Doug Polen set in 1991 for a second consecutive season. Lucas Mahias won the World Supersport race, his second victory of 2019.

Thierry Neuville won Rally Catalunya, his third victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One returns to Austin for the United States Grand Prix.
NASCAR returns to Fort Worth for a race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
MotoGP has its penultimate race of 2019 at Sepang.

Friday, October 25, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Chip Ganassi Racing's 2019 Season

The antepenultimate IndyCar review will be Chip Ganassi Racing. Coming off Scott Dixon's fifth championship, the team saw a shuffle with Ed Jones exiting after one season and Felix Rosenqvist entering after spending the last five years proving he is the best young driver in the world that every Formula One team has missed.

It wasn't a championship but 2019 was a stout season for Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon
Dixon entered the 2019 season looking to do something he had never done before: Successfully defend a championship and a successful defense would give him six titles, putting him one behind A.J. Foyt for the all-time record. While Dixon continued to pad his stats and move up the record book, a few rough days spoiled what was otherwise an exceptional season.

What objectively was his best race?
His two victories in the second Belle Isle race and at Mid-Ohio.

What subjectively was his best race?
Is it fair to say that despite winning two races Dixon never really had a dominating day in 2019?

Dixon was great in 2019 and he really did put up champion-like numbers but the only time he lead more than 50% of the laps in a race was his Belle Isle victory. He led the most laps in his Mid-Ohio victory but both his victories were races that could have gone another way.

Belle Isle was a race where Dixon was on pit lane when Spencer Pigot and Sébastien Bourdais got together and it put space between him and the other front-runners of Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe, who would all get together later in the race and Dixon had smooth sailing from there. When everyone else makes mistakes, Dixon usually comes out on top.

Mid-Ohio could have gone to his teammate Felix Rosenqvist but Dixon held on with worn tires, alternate tires nonetheless, and won in one of the best races at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. I think Mid-Ohio was better because it was the best of Dixon coming to light. His ability to conserve equipment and go faster than anybody else and win from eighth on the grid in a caution-free race is spectacular.

I realize none of the above answers the question so I am going to say Mid-Ohio because on worn tires he was able to hold off a hungry teammate in the dying laps.

What objectively was his worst race?
The first Belle Isle race, where Dixon brushed the barrier on the inside of turn seven, broke his suspension and sent him in the tire barrier on the outside of the turn, ending his day while he was in contention for a podium finish. Up to this point, Dixon had completed every lap of the 2019 season, he had 12 consecutive lead lap finishes and he had finished 31 consecutive races.

What subjectively was his worst race?
There are two races Dixon should feel angry about and the first is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It was his race. He had it in the bag. He had the best car for most of the day and he had a 5.5-second lead with six laps to go. It should have been his but Simon Pagenuad was on fire in the wet and caught Dixon, making an audacious pass in turn nine of all places with three laps to go.

This race could have shifted the championship. Dixon wins it and he leads the championship by four points. Instead, he headed into Indianapolis 500 qualifying six points behind Josef Newgarden. It is absurd to think Dixon leading the championship after a Grand Prix of Indianapolis victory would have somehow significantly altered the results that occurred over the next 12 races but it is Dixon. People would have been afraid if Dixon, a historically slow starter, was leading the championship after five races. Things would have been different.

The second is Portland because he was leading and he seemed destined to win that race, take a huge chunk out of Newgarden's championship lead and head to Laguna Seca down about 45 points to Newgarden instead of 85 points like he was. Rossi and Pagenaud were only 41 points and 42 points behind Newgarden entering Laguna Seca. The finale would have been completely different if you had Rossi, Pagenaud and Dixon all within 45 to 50 points of Newgarden and after seeing how Newgarden's day played out, the championship could have gone to someone else.

Scott Dixon's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 4th (578 Points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 10
Top Fives: 11
Top Tens: 11
Laps Led: 214
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 8
Fast Twelves: 10
Average Start: 5.5625
Average Finish: 7.6471

Felix Rosenqivst left his mark on the 2019 IndyCar season
Felix Rosenqvist
After three years of trying, Chip Ganassi Racing had finally landed the big fish it had been chasing. After impressing the team in testing all those years ago, Rosenqvist entered IndyCar with Formula E, Indy Lights, Formula Three and sports car triumphs already on his résumé. Expectations were high and despite a few stumbles the Swede proved he had what it took for IndyCar.

What objectively was his best race?
Rosenqvist had two runner-up finishes in 2019, the aforementioned runner-up finish at Mid-Ohio to Dixon and the gap was 0.0934, and the other runner-up finish was at Portland behind Will Power.

What subjectively was his best race?
It was neither of his runner-up finishes. It was the final race of Rosenqvist's rookie season at Laguna Seca. He had a car that should have started on the front row. After a qualifying mishap he started 14th and went on a tear up to fifth without much help from the one caution. Rosenqvist did it on his own. He very well should have won the race that day. He had to finish seventh to clinch rookie of the year and he did it.

Mid-Ohio deserves a mention because Rosenqvist played strategy beautifully. He turned what appeared to be a two-stop race to a three-stop race on a dime. He got off the alternate tires at the correct time and it put him in a position late to chase down Dixon. Did traffic help Rosenqvist catch Dixon? Partially but with another lap that would have been Rosenqvist's victory.

What objectively was his worst race?
His Indianapolis 500 debut where he was caught in the Graham Rahal/Sébastien Bourdais accident in turn three and his race ended after 176 laps, leaving him in 28th position.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Indianapolis was tough because he struggled to find speed, kind of found his feet and then had it taken from him but four other races deserved to be mentioned because they all happened early in the year and it seemed to show the learning Rosenqvist had to do: Austin, Long Beach, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the second Belle Isle race.

Rosenqvist struggled with tire degradation at Austin after starting fifth. It looked like he wasn't going to finish in the top ten and then he had contact with James Hinchcliffe put him into the barrier at pit entry guaranteeing he would not finish in the top ten.

Long Beach was Laguna Seca before Laguna Seca. Rosenqvist was going to make the Fast Six at Long Beach and then put it into the barrier in turn seven in the second round of qualifying and he had to start 12th. He was stuck in the middle of the field and he could not do better than tenth.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis saw Rosenqvist start on pole position but lost the lead early to Dixon and he kept falling back. Also note he had two fires during pit stops! He still finished eighth but it was not the breakout performance many expected.

The second Belle Isle race was going to be at worst a sixth place finish but he bent his suspension after hitting a barrier, he held on as long as he could but lost the car in turn one and he ended up with a 16th place finish.

Felix Rosenqvist's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 6th (425 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 10
Laps Led: 71
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 6
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 10.313
Average Finish: 10.706

An Early Look Ahead
Chip Ganassi Racing is really set for the next five years and it is expanding with the addition of Marcus Ericsson.

Scott Dixon will turn 40 next July. Felix Rosenqvist turns 28 years old next week. Ericsson is 29 years old. Dixon isn't going anywhere any time soon and I think he could easily run to 45. There is no reason to think Rosenqvist is going to drop that far off that he will lose his seat in 2021 or 2022. If anything he is only going to cement himself as the heir apparent to the number one throne at CGR when he is 33 years old. Ericsson was an odd addition but with the sports car program going away Ganassi has the personnel for a third car. If Ericsson works out then great. If results are not great in 2020 or 2021 the team will move on and either find another driver or that crew will go back to sports cars when Ganassi finds another program.

Either way, for the first time since Dario Franchitti was in the team CGR has two championship-caliber drivers. Rosenqvist stayed in Dixon's shadow for most of the season. He was there in qualifying and in the race and at the end of the year we saw Rosenqvist start to eek out ahead of Dixon. This season very well could have ended with two race victories to Rosenqvist and one for Dixon. Imagine how differently we would be viewing the 2019 offseason if that was the case.

I only expect Rosenqvist to force Dixon to raise his game and I think both drivers will win races in 2020. The question becomes can both drivers put together championship runs?

Dixon is always in it and 2019 was a championship season where he lost out because the few errors he made cost him dearly and mechanical failure fell at the wrong time. He only lost the title by 63 points. If you take away the punctured radiator at Gateway, the electrical issue while leading at Portland and if he holds on for another two and a quarter laps at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis the championship would have been his. He had ten podium finishes and is the first driver with double-figure podium finishes not to win the title since 2009 when he and Ryan Briscoe both did it. His 11 top five finishes were only behind Newgarden's 12 and he was level with Rossi. I do not foresee the same number of issues catching Dixon next season.

Rosenqvist was stellar on road and street courses but he has to improve on ovals. He had zero top ten finishes in five starts. Other than Indianapolis he was a mid-pack guy in the other four oval races. Unless Rosenqvist wins six to eight road course races, including the finale, he will need significantly better oval results to be in the championship discussion.

With that said, I am not sure any other team should feel more confident for 2020 than Chip Ganassi Racing. It is primed to win now and it is primed to win for the future.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's 2019 Season

The eighth IndyCar team review will focus on Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. This was RLLR's second consecutive season with two cars and the team carried over its two drivers from 2018 with Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato returning to the organization. It was a solid season for the team but it again felt like something was missing.

There were high points and low points for Takuma Sato in 2019
Takuma Sato
This was Sato's second consecutive season at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and he entered 2019 off the back of a victory at Portland. Sato stayed on his best form through the first half of the season but another year saw him take a step back come summer. He again ended up in the spotlight for the wrong reasons but redemption would follow.

What objectively was his best race?
His victory at Barber from pole position. Out of 90 laps, Sato led 74 of them. It was an old-fashioned beat down. It was one of the most complete performances Sato has had in his IndyCar career.

What subjectively was his best race?
His victory at Gateway, from fifth on the grid but really it was a comeback. Sato dropped to the rear almost immediately. At one point he was dead last and two laps down. And this was after a difficult week following the opening lap accident at Pocono that saw most of the fingers pointed in his direction.

Somehow, Sato pulled it out at Gateway. After falling behind he had to pit later than others and with the way the cautions fell, Sato cycled back onto the lead lap. When it came time for the final pit stops, Sato held on long enough for his final stop to come under caution for Sébastien Bourdais' spin. He had trapped many of the front-runners a lap down and he could make his final stop and retain the lead.

The victory did not come easy. Ed Carpenter put up a late charge but Sato got to the finish line 0.0399 seconds ahead of the American driver.

What objectively was his worst race?
Sato's worst finish was 22nd at Toronto after he lost engine after 67 of 85 laps.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I hate to harp on it but it is Pocono. It is not a matter of fault. I don't think everything can be 100% pinned on Sato but looking at his record and then looking at his Pocono record, there is a history of Sato putting himself in the wrong place.

Sato participated in all seven Pocono races from 2013 to 2019. Out of a possible 1,288 laps, Sato completed only 493 laps. Out of a possible 3,220 miles, Sato completed 1,232.5 miles. Sato failed to make it to lap ten in three of seven races, he failed to complete 63 miles in four of seven races and he only made the halfway point twice in his career at the track. Coincidentally, both times he made it to halfway he completed all 500 miles.

Most of Sato's incidents at Pocono are infamous. He bowled into Ryan Hunter-Reay entering the pit lane in 2013 while Hunter-Reay was running at the front. He spun on lap one after starting third in a race that was rain-delayed to Monday. The last two years he was caught in the early accidents with his role more prominent in 2019.

And he started in the top ten every year at Pocono! We should have almost known Pocono would not be Sato's day before we ever got there.

Takuma Sato's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 9th (415 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 4
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 200
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 10.563
Average Finish: 11.353

It was not a bad year for Graham Rahal but it was not a great one either
Graham Rahal
For the seventh consecutive season, Rahal ran for the family team and he entered with four consecutive years finishing in the top ten in the championship but the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. Rahal also entered 2019 with a podium finish in eight consecutive seasons but he did not win a race in 2018 and he did not have a podium finish in the final 16 races of 2018.

What objectively was his best race?
Rahal had a third place finish at Texas and he spent pretty much the entire race in top ten and he extended his podium finish streak to nine consecutive seasons.

What subjectively was his best race?
There are two races I want to throw out there: Austin and Road America.

Rahal started tenth at Austin and he did a great job managing his tires while others struggled. He was always going to score a top ten result but the one caution for Felix Rosenqvist's spin put him in position for a top five result and he brought the car home in fourth.

At Road America, Rahal started fifth and spent the entire race in the top five. He didn't quite have the pace to keep up with Alexander Rossi, nobody did, and the Team Penske cars of Will Power and Josef Newgarden were a little out of reach but Rahal was the fourth best car that day and he finished fourth without putting a wheel wrong.

What objectively was his worst race?
Rahal made contact with Sébastien Bourdais in turn three with 24 laps to go in the Indianapolis 500 and it was while both cars were in the top ten and possibly being on the verge for a top five result. Rahal has only three top ten finishes in 12 Indianapolis 500 starts.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Indianapolis is up there but Barber should probably top the list because it was setting up to be a great day for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The team swept the front row and both cars were quick in the race. During that first stint it even appeared Rahal might have a slightly better car than Sato and, instead of taking the lead on the racetrack, he was going to wait to leapfrog Sato during the pit cycle.

Unfortunately, Rahal had throttle issues on his first pit stop and he was taken out of contention right then and there. Barber proved to be Rahal's best chance of victory all season even though he had great runs at Texas and Road America. Barber was the closest he got to victory all season and it lasted all of two-dozen laps.

Graham Rahal's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 10th (389 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 11
Laps Led: 9
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 10.75
Average Finish: 11.059

An Early Look Ahead
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing had a textbook good season. The team won two races and it had two drivers finish in the top ten of the championship but it feels unfulfilled.

After Barber, it seemed RLLR might be the surprise of the season. The team swept the front row and this was after the team had a pretty encouraging outing at Austin. It felt like RLLR may have made a breakthrough and could have had both cars up front more.

That really wasn't the case but 2019 was a step forward. This was the first time RLLR had two drivers finish in the top ten of the championship since 2004. The drivers combined for eight top five finishes and it had its first pole position since 2007.

I am not sure how much is going to carry over to 2020. Sato may have won twice but he had fewer top ten finishes than in 2018. Rahal took a step back in the championship and since 2015 his championship finishes have been fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and tenth! I think this team is good and it is on the doorstep of something great but it still has to put the pieces together.

Are Rahal and Sato the drivers capable of getting the team over that hump?

We have been watching Rahal for over a decade and he had one championship contending season. Maybe he can recapture that magic. Sato has never been a championship-contender and while in recent years we have seen him turn into a race winning driver he has plenty of poor days each year that you know at best he is just cracking the top ten in the championship.

Sato is going to stick around because he has Honda funding but after 2020, where does this team go? I think come 2021 this team has to start looking to the future. Rahal will only be 32 years in 2021. Rahal still has another decade in IndyCar if he wants it but this team has to position itself in 2020 to hire a top candidate in 2021. A strong year and the team could be ready for that next piece. A step back and then the team may be forced to keep Sato for another year and hope it can expand to that elusive third entry and snag a big fish.

This isn't a team that we expect to win every single race but it was not that long ago Rahal was fighting for the championship and he was flying solo. The team hasn't regressed since 2015 but it has found itself in a rut.

If any team can lay claim to a fourth spot in an IndyCar "Big Four" it is RLLR. The only problem is it is a distant fourth.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: We Need to Take a Look at the 1973 NASCAR Cup Season

Adam Cianciarulo won the Monster Energy Cup Supercross event from Las Vegas on his 450cc debut. Álex Márquez made the save of the weekend. Garrett Smithley was in the news again. Fabian Coulthard and Tony D'Alberto lost their sixth place finish from the Bathurst 1000 and DJR Team Penske was fined $250,000 and stripped of 300 teams' championship points for a team orders breach. The Road to Indy tested at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. NASCAR ended another playoff round and it was not straightforward. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

We Need to Take a Look at the 1973 NASCAR Cup Season
I don't know how I stumbled upon this, maybe it was when the 2020 NASCAR schedule was released and it had Phoenix closing out the 2020 season on November 8th and curiosity as to when a NASCAR season last ended that early led me to 1973 when the season closed on this day, October 21, 1973.

David Pearson won the finale and it was his 11th victory of the season, it was his 14th top five and top ten finish of the season and Pearson ended 13th in the championship.

The main reason why Pearson was so low in the championship was because he and the Wood Brothers only ran 18 of 28 races, however, the entire championship picture is startling.

Benny Parsons won the championship with only one race victory, not unheard of considering Parsons had 15 top five finishes, only Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker had more, and Parsons' 21 top ten finishes led NASCAR. However, what is interesting is Parsons had one lead lap finish, his victory at Bristol in July.

If Parsons' number of lead lap finishes surprise you, five of the top ten in the championship had zero lead lap finishes and Bobby Allison, who finished seventh in the championship, had only three lead lap finishes, two of which were victories.

Pearson led NASCAR with 14 lead lap finishes. Only eight drivers had lead lap finishes in 1973! Richard Petty had ten lead lap finishes, Yarborough had eight, Baker had six, Allison had three while Parsons had one as well as Dick Brooks and Mark Donohue. Donohue won the season opener at Riverside and his only other start was Atlanta on April 1st. Brooks won the August Talladega race.

Racing was different in the 1970s. Attrition meant retirements. It meant broken water pumps, spring failures, carburetors breaking and burnt pistons. If you finished 10 laps down you could get a top ten finish and on the really eventful days that could get a top five finish.

Pearson had 11 victories and still could only be 13th in the championship. Petty was fourth in the championship despite six victories, second to only Pearson, and Petty had 15 top five finishes and 17 top ten finishes. James Hylton was fourth in the championship; a spot ahead of Petty, with one top five finish and 11 top ten finishes. Walter Ballard and Elmo Langley were eighth and ninth in the championship, neither driver had a top five finish and both drivers had four top ten finishes.

Attrition aside, what led for such a crazy championship outcome?

The answer is the points system and it was unconventional.

Each race paid the same number of points per position. A victory paid 125 points with second place receiving 98 points and the number of points per position decreasing by two all the way down to 50th.

However, each race carried weighted points for laps completed and it varied based on track size. Each lap completed at a track under a mile paid 0.25 points. A one-mile track paid 0.5 points per lap. A 1.3-mile track (Darlington) paid 0.70 points a lap with the 1.5-mile ovals paying 0.75 points per lap. The two-mile ovals paid one point per laps and the tracks 2.5 miles in length or greater paid 1.25 points per lap.

A win at Martinsville would pay 250 points but a victory at Talladega would pay 360 points. What every other position paid depended on laps completed. If you had a bad day, not only would you have to settle for points of a 27th place finish but if you finished 100 laps down at a place like Michigan you would lose an additional 100 points to the race winner and any other car that finished on the lead lap.

How could someone like Hylton, whose best finish was fourth at Talladega two laps down, finish ahead of Petty with six victories? Hylton completed the most laps in the 1973 laps, 9,324 laps or 90.9% of the laps run. Petty completed 8,644 laps, only 84.3% of the laps.

The top nine championship finishers were the top nine in laps completed with the drivers that completed the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth most laps finishing fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth respectively in the championship (Petty, Baker, Allison, Ballard, Langley).

It was the system for the time period and after the 1973 season the points awarded for laps completed were dropped. The 1974 championship was decided based on earnings multiplied by race starts and divided by 1,000.

NASCAR's patented points system was not introduced until the 1975 season and it would remain, with a few tweaks with more points given to the race winner, through the 2010 season before the one-point between position system was introduced in 2011.

The 1973 season shows the importance of a points system and not only a points system but a balanced points system. The World 600 paid the most points, which kind of makes sense because it was the longest race, with 425 points but it was 175 points greater than victories at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond.

However, Pearson's season does bring into question how a points system should work and what it means to be champion.

Is the champion the best driver?

It is very hard to sit down and argue that a driver that won over a third of the races and finished in the top five in half of them while no one else came close to those percentages is not champion. The only thing against Pearson is he did not run over a third of the races.

Participation had been key in pretty much every North American championship. NASCAR has historically always paid points to every driver that starts a race. IndyCar had a system that would pay to the top ten or top 12 finishers but in the last 25 years it has followed suit and every starter gets points.

Should that be the case?

I understand why a series would want drivers to run in as many races as possible. It would not be good for a series if you had many teams cherry picking and only doing half the races or two-thirds of the races. A series has to incentivize entries to go to all the races that way some tracks do not get short-changed with a thin grid.

But should showing up to every race factor into whether or not a driver is considered the best? Shouldn't the best be champion? And if the best isn't champion, what does that say about the championship?

I went back and applied the 9-6-4-3-2-1 points system that Formula One utilized from 1961-1990 to the 1973 season and Pearson would have won the championship with 115 points to Petty's 100 points with Yarborough in third on 96 points, Baker fourth on 79 points, Allison fifth on 70 points and Pearsons in sixth on 61 points.

The title would have still gone down to the final race, as Pearson would have entered on 106 points, six ahead of Petty. Petty could have won the title with a race victory and Pearson finishes fifth or worse.

To expand on this further, I applied the current Formula One system, 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 but minus the bonus point for fastest lap and Pearson would have won the title again with 326 points, ten ahead of Petty but Pearson would have won the title on the final day of the season as he would have entered the finale trailing Petty by 15 points. Petty would have needed a top four finish to take the title.

Yarborough would have been third on 314 points with Baker in fourth on 283 points, Allison in fifth on 245 points and Parsons two points behind Allison.

I also went back and applied the points system NASCAR introduced in the 1975 season to 1973 to see how it would have played out if everyone got points but the points were equal for each race.

Pearson would not have been champion. In fact, Pearson would have been 11th in the championship. The title would have gone to the final race with Yarborough leading on 3,905 points, 12 points ahead of Petty and 50 points ahead of Parsons. Yarborough would have won the title with 4,075 points, 124 points ahead of Petty and 141 points ahead of Pearson. Baker would have been fourth and Cecil Gordon, who finished third in the actual 1973 season with no victories, eight top five finishes and 18 top ten finishes, would have rounded out the top five.

It is interesting to see how each system would have played out. Each would have gone to the wire but in the two Formula One systems, the championship would have come down between the two drivers with the most victories. In the system that paid out to the top ten, Petty entered ahead of Pearson, despite Pearson having the most victories.

The system NASCAR introduced in the 1975 season balanced winning races along with consistent finishes. Three drivers with similar but slightly different seasons would have bene alive for the championship.

It is a matter of principle and what one believes should factor into a championship.

Looking at Pearson's season, it is remarkable. Along with his 11 victories, he had eight pole positions and an average starting position of 3.4, the best in each category. His average finish was 7.8; the only drivers that had better average finishes ran three races or fewer. He led 2,658 of 5,338 laps completed, that is 49.79%. The only driver that led more was Yarborough with 3,167 laps led but that was out of 9,314 laps completed, 34.002% of the laps Yarborough ran.

Pearson's 1973 season is a benchmark for greatness, championship or not, but it does require us to consider what decides a champion and what can be done to ensure each season ends with the right person hosting the trophy.

Champions From the Weekend
Toni Vilander won the Blancpain GT World Challenge America championship after a second place finish and third place finish in Las Vegas.

Ian James won the GT4 America sprint championship with finishes of first and fourth at Las Vegas. Michael Cooper won the second race.

The #19 Stephan Cameron Racing BMW of Greg Liefooghe and Sean Quinlan won GT4 America SprintX Pro-Am championship.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Adam Cianciarulo but did you know...

Marc Márquez won MotoGP's Japanese Grand Prix, his fourth consecutive victory and his tenth victory of 2019. Luca Marini won the Moto2 race, his second consecutive victory. Lorenzo Dalla Porta won the Moto3 race, his second victory of 2019.

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup race from Kansas, his fifth victory of the season. Brandon Jones won the Grand National Series race, his first career victory.

The #9 K-PAX Racing Bentley of Álvaro Parente and Andy Soucek swept the Blancpain GT World Challenge America races from Las Vegas. The #36 McLaren of Jarett Andretti and Colin Mullan swept the GT4 America SprintX races.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One moves to Mexico.
MotoGP ventures to Australia.
NASCAR trudges into Martinsville.
Super Formula closes its season at Suzuka and World Touring Car Cup will also be on the bill.
European Le Mans Series punctuates its season at Portimão in Portugal.
World Superbike calls it quits on 2019 in Qatar.
Supercars has an endurance event at Surfers Paradise.
World Rally Championship slides into Spain.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Dale Coyne Racing's 2019 Season

The second half of the IndyCar team previews brings us to IndyCar's minnow that regularly overachieves, Dale Coyne Racing. The 2019 season was not quite what the team had become used to in recent seasons but it was a season far from the lowest points of Dale Coyne Racing.

It was not Sébastien Bourdais' greatest year but it was far from terrible
Sébastien Bourdais
The Frenchman did not have the same level of success we saw in the previous two seasons but Bourdais held his own and was important to the performance of Dale Coyne Racing.

What objectively was his best race?
Bourdais had a third place finish at Barber Motorsports Park after starting fifth. He was actually giving Scott Dixon a good fight for second.

What subjectively was his best race?
Laguna Seca because Bourdais went from 19th to seventh with a sore neck and at one point he had dropped to about 22nd. At the start, it appeared Bourdais was not going to have it. It appeared the neck was in worse condition than first thought and this would have been an earlier retirement for him. He kept going and Bourdais has a knack of going from nothing to something. He did this at Mid-Ohio in 2018. He won from 21st at St. Petersburg in 2017, albeit with a timely caution, but he still has it.

Another race to note is Austin, where Bourdais went from 17th to fifth. Bourdais did gain a few positions after the likes of Will Power and Alexander Rossi were shuffled back due to pit stops under caution but he was a mover and took advantage of the one restart and made up a handful of sports there. This result came after uncertainty over how his car would drive in the race.

What objectively was his worst race?
It was 30th in the Indianapolis 500 after he and Graham Rahal got together in turn three with 24 laps to go.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Again, it is Indianapolis, because Bourdais was going to finish in the top ten but he could have been fighting for a top five in the closing stages. If that accident doesn't happen, the race stays green and the Chevrolets of Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter are all in fuel conservation mode. Those three were either going to be slowing down and trying to stretch it or coming for a splash and go in the final laps. In that case, Bourdais is up a few spots and it could have been a great result.

I think St. Petersburg deserves a mention because he lost an engine after 11 laps and Gateway as well deserves a mention because he was fighting for a top five before he spun with broken rear suspension.

Sébastien Bourdais' 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 11th (387 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 9
Laps Led: 19
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 6
Average Start: 10.875
Average Finish: 11.412

Santino Ferrucci: The most polarizing IndyCar driver in 2019
Santino Ferrucci
In his first full season in IndyCar, Ferrucci was one of the top performers on ovals and he was also one of the most consistent drivers in 2019. It led to a lot of praise of his driving but it also covered up for below-average road and street course performances.

What objectively was his best race?
Ferrucci's best finish was fourth and it happened three times, all at ovals, Texas, Pocono and Gateway.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Gateway because Ferrucci was a competitive car from the start while at Texas and Pocono he definitely got to fourth thanks to attrition and circumstances. Ferrucci was at the front for the entirety of Gateway and he got to the lead on speed. He led 97 laps and if his teammate Bourdais doesn't spin, Ferrucci may have won this race. The three guys that finished ahead of him, Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan, all caught a break with that caution. It will be a what might have been for him.

He was Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year with a seventh place result and he his avoidance of cars in the Rahal-Bourdais incident earned him attention.

What objectively was his worst race?
The season finale at Laguna Seca, where Ferrucci locked up the brakes and ran into Takuma Sato into the hairpin on the only restart of the race. It broke Ferrucci's front suspension and he had to park it off course in turn six, ending his race with a 24th place result.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I will list three:

Austin, where he was on the edge of the top ten for most of it after starting 11th but he broke a rear damper after going wide and it dropped him to 20th.

Another mechanical issue came at Portland. Ferrucci may have had a top ten finish had it not been for an electrical problem that took him out of the race and left him 17th in the final results.

At Long Beach, Ferrucci was the 21st finisher after he blew turn one and then stalled getting the car turned around. It cost him two laps.

Santino Ferrucci's 2019 Statistics
Championship Position: 13th (351 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 118
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 15.375
Average Finish: 12.824

An Early Look Ahead
Dale Coyne Racing could make history in 2020 and that history would be retaining the same two drivers for consecutive seasons.

This is not a team used to this much stability. Bourdais has the third most starts with the team. Ferrucci is up to tied for 13th most with Tarso Marques and Carlos Huertas. Seventy-nine different drivers have started an IndyCar race for Dale Coyne Racing since the team's first start in 1984 at Mid-Ohio with Dale Coyne himself behind the wheel.

The team has kept the lights on and took the long road to success. The 2019 season is a little bit of a disappointment. The team failed to win a race for the first time since 2016. It is only the third season in the DW12-era the team did not pick up a victory.

IndyCar is tough and even if the Bourdais-Ferrucci duo is retained for 2020 there is no guarantee the results will get better. Bourdais is still a guy that can win races. Ferrucci may be a guy that can win races. This team is always going to be fighting uphill with fewer resources than Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

The fact that Dale Coyne Racing has regularly been ahead of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the last three years is an accomplishment and it makes you wonder if McLaren is getting into bed with the right team.

It is tough to predict Dale Coyne Racing because it is a small team and one small change behind the scenes that would not even be noticed at Penske could cause a significant turn in results for DCR.

The one thing to note about Ferrucci is he was in a good situation, things went right for him this year and it led to a positive attitude. However, when he was in Europe, facing the pressures of the European ladder system and not getting ideal results it led to the outburst of poor behavior that led to a Formula Two ban. We didn't really see him in a difficult situation in 2019 and I think we will learn more about him when he has a few rough race weekends and cannot find the pace.

We are not even sure Ferrucci is going to be back next year with Coyne. It makes sense. It seems like the money will be there and it seems like Ferrucci isn't sniffing around for a seat somewhere else. If Ferrucci leaves, Coyne will find another driver, who knows of what quality but he will find another.

As long as Bourdais is there and is paired with Craig Hampson and Michael Cannon is the team's other engineer, Dale Coyne Racing will have strong days and be fighting with the big boys when it otherwise should be struggling to stand out in the middle of the field.