Friday, July 31, 2020

Best of the Month: July 2020

We are starting something new in July 2020.

Due to the shakeups around the globe because of the covid-19 pandemic, the motorsports calendar has been jammed together and we are in a busier than usual period. With all these races week after week, the time is not there to do a regular catchup or breakdown of what has happened. Certain topics will fall through the cracks. A race or competitor might not get the attention he or she deserves.

This is a chance to do one large review and tie up loose ends. It is also a chance for a brain dump of things that otherwise do not fit the course of the month. A few things still might not make the cut, but if we at least hit all the larger items, I think we can call it a success.

In this hectic year, doubleheaders have been a saving grace for many series trying to fit in as many races as they can into a condensed schedule.

IndyCar and NASCAR have both used additional doubleheaders to squeeze in races and both series will run additional doubleheaders later this year to fill out the schedule. Formula One and MotoGP have run its own form of doubleheaders. The Red Bull Ring hosted Formula One races on consecutive weeks. Silverstone is doing the same starting this weekend and there is belief Bahrain will also host a doubleheader toward the end of the 2020 season. MotoGP began its 2020 season with back-to-back rounds in Jerez and it will have a back-to-back at Red Bull Ring in August, one at Misano in September and one at Aragón in October.

After being starved of racing for almost three months, doubleheaders allow the masses to gorge themselves. It is making up for what was lost but also preparing for tightened restrictions come autumn. The pandemic will carry on into 2021 and this autumn and winter could be worse than what we have experienced. These series are aiming to hit their desired race number before possibly returning to a strict lockdown.

The schedule has worked out. IndyCar ran a two-day show at Road America with practice, qualifying and race on day one and qualifying and a race on day two. At Iowa, the series got to experiment with a new qualifying format on day one ahead of race one and then have a warm-up session before race two.

NASCAR's schedule has allowed it to experiment with shorter race distances and inversions. Both have been met positively, although there has been a push for a return of some practice and qualifying.

Formula One and MotoGP has treated each of its doubleheader rounds like individual weekends. Despite clamoring for a reverse grid race at the second Red Bull Ring round, Formula One stuck to procedure. Neither race had any course alteration and that will likely be the same for Silverstone. MotoGP as well did not have any differences between its two rounds at Jerez.

Formula One will bring out different tire compounds for the two Silverstone rounds and that will hopefully change things up. There has been talk that Bahrain could run a race on a layout different from its grand prix circuit should it get two races. Bahrain's perimeter circuit has been touted as a possible layout.

Doubleheaders most likely will not become a regular thing in Formula One and MotoGP but IndyCar and NASCAR could see an expansion of the practice. IndyCar has already been regularly using doubleheaders since 2013. NASCAR was already planning on testing it out in 2020 for the Pocono weekend and the pandemic increased the experiment three-fold or five-fold depending on how you look at the May races at Darlington and Charlotte.

This number of doubleheaders were not planned but they have allowed multiple series to succeed in these difficult times.

Choose Rule
Introduced at the NASCAR All-Star Race, the choose rule was... fine.

It wasn't a revolutionary introduction. It didn't bust down the doors like double-file restarts did in 2009 or when the green-white-checkered finish was introduced to NASCAR's top two divisions in 2004. Unlike rushing to introduce something midseason, NASCAR appears to be waiting until 2021 for the choose rule to become a permanent fixture in the Cup Series.

While different, it didn't shake up the All-Star Race up as much as initially expected. One car started on the outside, another started on the inside, the actual order off pit road doesn't matter and the race went on. Ultimately, one of the first two or three cars behind the leader will pick the opposite lane. Sometimes, second will want to be side-by-side and hope to get the jump at the restart. Other times second will remain in the preferred lane and third will move up and if third stays then fourth will go.

I doubt we are going to see the top eight remain in the same lane and ninth jumps to second.

I think the choose rule's implementation in the Cup Series and full-time NASCAR racing is more complicated than it appears, especially when we have a significant number of lapped cars separating the lead lap cars, similar to what we saw at the end of the Texas race after the Quin Houff caution.

NASCAR has a lot of provisions in its rulebook. The lucky dog has to start at the rear of the field, certain penalties force drivers to drop to the tail end of the longest line. The choose rule complicates that. Couldn't the lucky dog choose the lane that is shortest? You don't know what the longest line will be until everyone has chosen their lane.

This could be the sponge that washes away all the qualifiers and NASCAR admitting none of it really matters. The choose rule feels like NASCAR giving in and telling the drivers to choose a lane and go. It doesn't care what happens once you pick a lane.

Moving the All-Star Race Around
This year has forced almost every back-burner idea into the forefront: Doubleheaders, one-day shows, inversions, midweek races, even the All-Star Race at different venues.

After 34 consecutive years at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the 2020 race was held at Bristol Motor Speedway, a stone's throw from the Charlotte-area.

I have long held the belief the race should stay at Charlotte for the benefit of the teams. It is a race weekend, but 95% of the drivers and personnel are staying in their own beds. It is a plus for them, especially before the start of a grueling summer schedule.

However, 2020 has forced us to re-evaluate every possible solution. With Darlington, Martinsville and Bristol all hosting one-day shows earlier this year with most of the teams driving down the morning of the event and then returning home, I think the All-Star Race could be held elsewhere, but there are limited options and there are other problems.

One issue is diluting the schedule. I don't think the All-Star Race would move to July. I think it should stay in the middle of May before the Coca-Cola 600. But does it make sense for Bristol to host a Cup race in April and then the All-Star Race a month later? What type of crowd would that draw?

A Martinsville All-Star Race could be the reverse of Charlotte. Instead of having the All-Star Race at Charlotte the week before the "600," the original 2020 schedule had Martinsville the weekend before the All-Star race. We could run Martinsville and then return seven days later for the exhibition event. It has the same problem as Bristol. Will the Martinsville crowd shell out for another Cup race the following weekend? People will end up choosing one over the other and instead of having one packed Saturday night race at Martinsville, you could end up with two moderately filled Martinsville night races.

Two events that would not have to worry about date dilution is Darlington and Atlanta. Both only have one Cup race and have abrasive surfaces that make for better racing. Both would need to shed the high downforce package NASCAR has forced upon it, but both would be great options. Darlington would be the better of the two options because the Southern 500 is Labor Day weekend while Atlanta's one race is in the middle of March. The schedule could change to allow Atlanta a little more space, but until then I don't think two months is enough between races.

People would come out and support an All-Star Race at Darlington. It might even feel like a Southern 500 crowd, especially if the Truck and/or Grand National Series also race that weekend. I also enjoyed the All-Star Race being on a Wednesday night, but we can discuss that on another day. 

Andretti Autosport Indy Lights Progression
This is going back to June, but when Michael Andretti joined Marshall Pruett for Pruett's This Week in IndyCar, Andretti noted the success of his Indy Lights program. "I think if you look at our record, just about every single driver that raced for us made it to IndyCar for at least one race," the 1991 IndyCar champion said.

I thought I would go through that history and see how many actually made an IndyCar start.

Marco Andretti - 240 starts and counting
Jonathan Klein - Zero starts
Jaime Camara - 14 starts (Last raced Chicagoland 2008)
Wade Cunningham - 5 starts (Last raced Fontana 2012)
Arie Luyendyk, Jr. - 1 start (Last raced Indianapolis 2006)
Raphael Matos - 38 starts (Last raced São Paulo 2011, last appearance Indianapolis 2011)
J.R. Hildebrand - 64 starts and possibly counting
Sebastián Saavedra - 65 starts
Charlie Kimball - 147 starts and counting
Martin Plowman - 5 starts (Last raced Indianapolis 2014)
Stefan Wilson - 3 starts (Last raced Indianapolis 2018)
James Winslow - Zero starts
Peter Dempsey - Zero starts
Carlos Muñoz - 73 starts (Last raced Sonoma 2018)
Zach Veach - 42 starts and counting
Matthew Brabham - 2 starts (Last raced Indianapolis 2016)
Shelby Blackstock - Zero starts
Dean Stoneman - Zero starts
Dalton Kellett - 3 starts and counting
Nico Jamin - Zero starts
Colton Herta - 32 starts and counting
Patricio O'Ward - 14 starts and counting
Oliver Askew - 6 starts and counting

Out of 23 past Andretti Autosport Indy Lights drivers, only six never made an IndyCar start. That is 26%. However, seven of those drivers are still regular competitors in the IndyCar series. Nine of those drivers have made fewer than 20 IndyCar starts but O'Ward and Askew are rookies in IndyCar. It is still a pretty good hit record for the organization.

Marco Andretti's Lost Races
On that same podcast, Michael Andretti noted how Marco Andretti had the worst luck and it cost him at the Texas season opener. Michael said Marco should easily have ten to 12 wins in his IndyCar.

Challenge accepted. Can we find another eight to ten victories that slipped through Marco's 15-year career?

1. 2006 Indianapolis 500
Let's start with Marco's greatest defeat. It was his fourth IndyCar race, his first time at Indianapolis and the 19-year-old lost by 0.0635 seconds to Sam Hornish, Jr.

It wasn't a race Andretti dominated. In fact, he had only led laps 198 and 199. But a timing of caution positioned Andretti to have one hand on the Borg-Warner Trophy as a teenager.

Even though Andretti had not been a frontrunner all race, he held nearly a second lead at the start of the final lap. Hornish drove the lap of his life to take victory in the 90th Indianapolis 500. Andretti didn't make a mistake. Hornish did something magnificent.

2. 2007 Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan 
Another photo finish. This time it was Andretti falling 0.0595 seconds short behind teammate Tony Kanaan.

This is another race Andretti didn't dominate, he only led 12 laps, but after a five-car accident took out Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Sam Hornish, Jr., it opened the door for anyone to take victory and it set up an three-way battle between Andretti teammates Kanaan, Andretti and Danica Patrick.

Patrick fell out of the running after making a late pit stop for a tire with a slow puncture, setting up Kanaan vs. Andretti down the stretch and Kanaan won. Two races, two superspeedways, two photo finishes and Andretti fell a combined 0.123 seconds short of two victories.

3. 2007 Motorola Indy 300 at Sonoma
This is one Dario Franchitti owes Andretti.

Franchitti had led 62 laps, but on the final pit stop cycle Andretti got out ahead of Franchitti only for Franchitti to make contact with Andretti at the top of the hill in turn two. Andretti was out, Franchitti had to limp with a broken front wing, holding up the field and hanging onto a top three finish.

Franchitti could have finished second, ahead of championship rival Dixon, and left Sonoma with a 16-point lead instead of a four-point deficit, and he could have headed into the Chicago finale with a 23-point lead instead of a three-point lead.

Everything worked out for Franchitti, but chalk this as another race that got away from Andretti.

4. 2008 Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300 at Homestead
Andretti led a race-high 85 laps in this race but finished second to Dixon.

In all honesty, this is a race that got away from Tony Kanaan because Kanaan was leading when the damaged race car of E.J. Viso slid down the track and grazed Kanaan's right front tire. Kanaan had to sacrifice the lead with four laps to go and Dixon took the victory.

But it was the first time Andretti led the most laps in his career and he didn't pick up the victory.

5. 2008 SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond
Andretti got the pit strategy wrong in this race. He drove to the front and took the lead, led 90 laps but didn't come under the lap 145 caution and instead ran to lap 206 and made his final pit stop under green flag conditions. This put him a lap down and then the caution came out at lap 218.

Kanaan was able to pit under caution and keep the lead. Andretti was waved around but stuck in the middle of the field. Kanaan took the victory, Andretti was ninth.

6. 2010 Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber
Andretti led 58 of 90 laps on an alternate strategy and made his final pit stop with nine laps to go. This dropped him to fifth and Hélio Castroneves took the victory.

The alternate strategy and the lack of a caution in the middle of the race led to the high number of laps led, but not many times will you see a driver lead nearly two-thirds of a road course race and not deserve the victory.

7. 2012 Indianapolis 500
Andretti led a race-high 59 laps but as the race wore on the Hondas gained the upper hand and Andretti kept falling back. The car went away from him and he was left chasing the race.

It led to an accident on lap 187 and what looked like a promising day ended in disappointment.

8. 2013 Milwaukee IndyFest
On pole position for the first time in five years, Andretti led the first 61 laps, but a long pit stop dropped him down the order and an electrical failure ended his race.

It was one of those races where the dominoes did not fall in his favor.

9. 2013 Pocono 400
After 25 years since IndyCar last raced at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway, the hometown favorite Andretti won pole position and it felt like the storybook return was set to come to life.

Andretti controlled this race, leading 88 laps, but like Indianapolis the year before, the Hondas gained the upper hand in the race, especially with the lack of cautions. Andretti was forced to conserve fuel and dropped down the order, eventually crossing the line in tenth with barely any fuel in the tank.

10. 2015 Chevrolet Indy Duel in Detroit #1
On a dry-to-wet day, Andretti went off strategy from the start from ninth on the grid. While everyone watched the weather and tried to time switching the wet tires correctly, Andretti ran fast lap after fast lap.

Drivers emerged from the pit lane with wet weather tires shod but a dry track and the raindrops refused to fall. Andretti opened a significant lead as some teams had to return to pit lane because they ruined their wet tires before the rain even began.

Unfortunately, Andretti had to stop for fuel before needing tires. He emerged with wet tires because the rain was bound to come. This allowed Carlos Muñoz to take the lead and pulled away from Andretti. Muñoz made his pit stop as the rain started and kept the lead. Andretti was second. The rain became torrential, the red flag came out after 47 laps and Muñoz got the victory with eight laps led while Andretti rounded out the 1-2 finish for the team.

11. 2015 MavTV 500 at Fontana
Andretti led 31 laps and finished third from third on the grid. Maybe this wasn't a race Andretti deserved but in the chaotic ending it was one race that could have been in Andretti's favor. It wasn't. Graham Rahal took the victory, Kanaan was second and Andretti was third.

That is 11 races. A few are questionable but there are at least seven races that arguably Andretti was the best driver and it didn't work out. I am sure we could do this with every driver on the grid. I am sure every driver has at least ten races that slipped away. Think about how differently Andretti's career would be viewed if he had four or five more victories and let's say one of those was at Indianapolis.

Nick Cassidy's Formula E Promotion
This could have easily been lost in the shuffle of the month, but Nick Cassidy will join Virgin Racing in Formula E next season. Cassidy will replace Sam Bird, who has been with the team since day one. Bird flies over to Jaguar to partner Mitch Evans.

Cassidy has spent the last five years conquering the Japanese motorsports scene. He has championships in both Super GT and Super Formula. He has finished in the top two the last three years in Super GT and he has been in the top two of Super Formula the last two years.

With rival Naoki Yamamoto being promoted as a possible Formula One driver due to Yamamoto's Honda ties, it only makes sense that Cassidy look to see what awaits him outside of Japan. With Super Formula becoming a testing crowd for future Formula One drivers, Cassidy has shown mastery in a car that the likes of Stoffel Vandoorne and Pierre Gasly have used as a final step before entering Formula One. Felix Rosenqvist, Álex Palou and Pietro Fittipaldi have all used Super Formula before moving on to other top international series. Red Bull development drivers Jüri Vips and Sérgio Sette Câmara are scheduled to contest Super Formula this season.

Cassidy has already topped the series and he turns 26 years old next month. Now is the time to take the leap into the international waters. This is the biggest step of Cassidy's career. However, Formula E is developing into a final destination and not a steppingstone in the larger motorsports world.

Bird, Lucas di Grassi, Jean-Éric Vergne, António Félix da Costa and Sébastien Buemi have all made Formula E their homes. Buemi still has the Toyota LMP1 ride and Vergne runs in LMP2 on a regular basis, but no one has turned Formula E into a Formula One seat. Vandoorne joined the series after a disappointing time at McLaren. Nyck de Vries was a McLaren development driver and won the Formula Two title but his career has led him to Formula E.

There is greater flexibility with Formula E. As we see with Buemi and Vergne, sports car racing supplements their careers, the same is true for da Costa and James Calado. There is a limit to it. Cassidy will probably see a fair pay increase with his move to Formula E, but a mystery remains as to where he goes from there. Either way, Cassidy will get his first bit of international exposure and he could become a familiar name for years to come.

Who Had the Best Month?
Ford development drivers Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Briscoe continues to lead the NASCAR Grand National Series championship and he has been one of the best drivers in 2020. Briscoe won on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and had two runner-up finishes. Cindric won three consecutive races, including sweeping the Kentucky doubleheader. Cindric was in the top five of every race in July and now leads the championship. Briscoe had a top five in every race until he lost a tire late in the Kansas race and finished 14th.

Scott Dixon continues to be one of the best drivers in the world. Dixon won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and followed it up with a Road America victory, becoming the fifth driver in IndyCar history to open a season with three consecutive victories. He also finished second and fifth at Iowa and holds a 49-point championship lead over Simon Pagenaud.

Mercedes-AMG. It is three-for-three in 2020. Lewis Hamilton leads the World Drivers' Championship with 63 points, Valtteri Bottas is second with 58 points and with 121 points the team is 66 points clear of Red Bull Racing after three races.

Who is Glad to See August?
Sebastian Vettel. Vettel cannot get out of Ferrari soon enough.

Andretti Autosport. No victories, one podium finish and six top five finishes combined from six races. Colton Herta is seventh in the championship with Alexander Rossi in tenth. Rossi still hasn't led a lap in the last 13 races. Ryan Hunter-Reay has finished outside the top fifteen in the last three races. Veach started July 4th in the championship and is now 19th. Marco Andretti is bottom of the drivers to run every race this season.

The entire Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters grid because that series is finally returning to competition.

August Preview
We will cover the Indianapolis 500 thoroughly in August but the one thing that will get a little less attention is the end of the Formula E season.

Formula E will conclude its 2019-20 campaign with six races at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport with three pairs of doubleheaders in the span of nine days.

The first doubleheader will be Wednesday August 5 and Thursday August 6 going in the reverse direction of the original course. On Saturday August 8 and Sunday August 9, Formula E will run the course in its traditional direction. The season ends on Wednesday August 12 and Thursday August 13 on an extended layout with six additional corners.

Every single person on Earth is mathematically alive for the Formula E championship, as 180 points remain on the table.

António Félix da Costa leads with 67 points after the DS Teecheetah driver won the most recent race at Marrakesh and was runner-up in the prior two in Santiago and Mexico City. Jaguar's Mitch Evans is 11 points back. Evans won at Mexico City. BMW i Andretti drivers Alexander Sims and Maximilian Günther are third and fourth in the championship, 21 and 23 points behind da Costa respectively. Sims won the second race in Saudi Arabia and Günther won in Santiago.

Audi Sport ABT driver Lucas di Grassi and Mercedes-Benz EQ drive Stoffel Vandoorne are tied on 38 points for fifth. Venturi Racing's Edoardo Mortara sits on 32 points ahead of two-time defending champion Jean-Éric Vergne. Oliver Rowland leads the way for Nissan on 30 points with Saudi Arabia season opener winner Sam Bird on 29 points, two ahead of Sébastien Buemi.

There was a game of musical chairs since Formula E last competed.

Daniel Abt was fired from Audi Sport ABT after he used a professional simulator driver in one of the Formula E virtual events. Audi has drafted in DTM champion René Rast for the final six races.

Abt will move to NIO 333 FE Team in place of Ma Qinghua, who is unable to travel to Berlin.

Pascal Wehrlein left Mahindra Racing and Alex Lynn replaces the German.

Brendon Hartley departed from Dragon Racing and Brazilian Sérgio Sette Câmara joins the American team.

Other events of note in August: 
World Superbike restarts its season in Jerez and will have two other events during the month.
NASCAR's regular season ends but it will have two doubleheaders and run the Daytona road course before it wraps up.
The FIA World Endurance Championship will be at Spa-Francorchamps, its first round since Austin in February.
Super Formula begins its 2020 season at the end of August at Motegi.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

2020 IndyCar Schedule Fifth Revision: We Aren't Done Yet

On the eve August and with nearly half the scheduled races of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season complete, the calendar sees another amendment.

With increased lockdown measures in Portland, Oregon and restrictions in California, the western races at Portland and the Laguna Seca doubleheader have been cancelled.

To make up for the three lost races, Mid-Ohio, Gateway and the Harvest Grand Prix weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will all become doubleheaders, keeping the schedule at 14 races. None of the race weekends have changed dates.

The Mid-Ohio races will be Saturday August 8 and Sunday August 9. The Indianapolis 500 is still scheduled for August 23 with Indianapolis 500 practice beginning on Tuesday August 18. Gateway will have two afternoon races, one on Saturday August 29 and the other on Sunday August 30. The Harvest Grand Prix races will be Friday October 2 and Saturday October 3, as it shares the weekend with the Intercontinental GT Challenge Indianapolis 8 Hours. St. Petersburg remains as the season finale on October 25.

These doubleheaders will see adjusted race weekends, most notably race distances.

Mid-Ohio's two races will be 75 laps, 15 laps shorter than the originally scheduled distance for the Mid-Ohio race. Gateway will be a pair of 200-lap, 250-mile races. Each race will be 48 laps shorter than the original Gateway race distance. The Harvest Grand Prix race distances have not been announced.

Now we are done, right?

I said the same thing during the last round of revisions and even at that point we were hesitant about the security of Portland and Laguna Seca. Five revisions in and we are not sold St. Petersburg will happen after seeing the increase in covid-19 cases in Florida, but the state of Florida has been more relaxed when it comes to restrictions. The state has already hosted two IMSA races and Daytona plans on hosting two NASCAR weekends next month.

We are not going to be sure when the season will end until the season is already over.

August gets more cluttered, with five races over four races weekends. With the cancellation of Portland and Laguna Seca, September is an off month. There will be 32 days between the second Gateway race and the first Harvest Grand Prix race.

It is not ideal, but IndyCar is not going to add race weekends at this point in the season. We are not going to head to new racetracks. IndyCar is not going to add a race at Kentucky, a place it hasn't visited in nine years. If NASCAR isn't going to Watkins Glen and the IMSA 6 Hours of the Glen is in danger of being cancelled, then IndyCar isn't going to Watkins Glen.

The 2020 season will take place over the remaining race weekends. I think we are set for August unless things really get bad in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois over the next few weeks. The October rounds remain hard to predict. A lot can change between now and October. I think if we get through August, if either Harvest Grand Prix of St. Petersburg end up on the chopping block, we will just have a shortened schedule of 12 or 13 races.

I feel like Harvest Grand Prix will happen no matter what. One, it can be behind closed doors if necessary. Two, it would not require as many teams traveling as far as St. Petersburg. Meyer Shank Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Team Penske and half of A.J. Foyt Racing are all coming from outside of Indiana, but Indiana has not put down travel restrictions on people from other states. Three, it is a permanent facility while St. Petersburg's future could rely on cooperation from the city.

As for the races we have scheduled for August, it makes sense to run shorter races at Mid-Ohio and Gateway. These teams are working double time and it is an already busy schedule with the Indianapolis 500 between it all. The teams will be at a racetrack for four consecutive weeks. Instead of running a pair of an hour and 45-minute races at Mid-Ohio and a pair of two-hour races of Gateway, the teams get to save at least 20 minutes in all four races that is a small bone to throw to all the teams.

Shorter races will be odd, but I don't think the races are going to suffer. Mid-Ohio is going to be a two-stop race for everybody. Seventy-five laps are too long for a one-stop race, unless there is a ridiculous number of caution laps and Mid-Ohio is not known for a ton of cautions. Mid-Ohio could be a three-stop race, but I don't think that strategy will work out because the final stint will not be long enough for fresh tires to counter the time lost on an extra stop.

Gateway will be three-stop races, which isn't that much different compared to a four-stop race. It is going to be similar to Texas, which coincidentally was shortened from 248 laps to 200 laps, just like Gateway. It is going to be a quicker race and teams will have one fewer chance to adjust on a car.

Harvest Grand Prix is the one unknown across the board. We do not know the distance nor the actual track configuration. With this race weekend shared with the Intercontinental GT Challenge, the track layout will have to work for both series. I think the layout could be the same layout as the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. I am not sure if oval turn one could be incorporated, or the track could be run in reverse.

If the course cannot be different, I hope the least that can be done are different race distances. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis was shortened this year to 80 laps from 85 laps and that made it a race where teams could make it on two stops. I am not sure that is the best thing or if we need to see that race two more times. I would like to see a little longer races and maybe different distances. I would love to see one Harvest Grand Prix race be 85 laps and the other be 90 laps or one race be 90 laps and the other be 95 laps. Those would be longer than normal road course races, but they would be different races than what we have seen on the IMS road course.

Mid-Ohio and Gateway point to Harvest Grand Prix being more conservative on race distances, even if Harvest Grand Prix will be occurring after 32 days off and with three weeks before the St. Petersburg finale. If Harvest Grand Prix follows Mid-Ohio lead, we could see a pair of 70-lap races.

We have to be patient. It sounds crazy because we have had only six races, but we are almost done. If August goes off without a hitch, we will have 11 races down and the season will basically be over. If we need one final revision to complete a 14-race calendar than it will not seem that bad. It will be the final gasp across the line to complete this 2020 season.

Though we are losing September races, we are going to have a busy August. After having five races in three weekends during July, we are getting five races in four weekends in August and one of the races is the Indianapolis 500. It is the best of a bad situation, one that will be over sooner than we realize.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: Welcome to the Experience

Fabio Quartararo made it two-for-two this MotoGP season, as Quartararo led a Yamaha sweep of the podium ahead of Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi. Marc Márquez tried but decided to sit this one out. NASCAR's caution consistency has gotten worse and the series doesn't seem to care. The plan is for no practice or qualifying for the remainder of 2020 in NASCAR. Formula One announced returns to the Nürburgring and Imola and a debut at Portimão. IndyCar is on the verge of making Mid-Ohio, Gateway and Harvest Grand Prix doubleheaders at the expense of Portland and Laguna Seca. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Welcome to the Experience
Motorsports series around the globe have been doing all they can to remain afloat in 2020. Majority of events have been held behind closed doors or with significant attendance restrictions. Many events were cancelled, notably the Monaco Grand Prix and Grand Prix of Long Beach. Some were postponed. The Indianapolis 500 will be in August, Le Mans will be in September and Sebring will be in November. Everyone is scraping to remain alive. Through all this, one series has emerged from the chaos.

Birthed out of this pandemic, the Superstar Racing Xperience was announced last month, form through the partnership of Tony Stewart, Ray Evernham and former NASCAR COO George Pyne, who saw Nextel take over as title sponsor of the Cup Series.

This series will comprise of six races over six weeks in the summer of 2021 and CBS and CBS All Access will broadcast the events. The plan is for races to take place on short tracks, dirt tracks and possibly a road course with drivers from multiple series coming together.

Evernham will design the car and his goal is for a low downforce, high horsepower automobiles to showcase the drivers' skill. Each race will be 90 minutes in length and broken in half with a halftime break without need for live pit stops.

The announcements drew comparisons to the long-gone International Race of Champions, FastMasters and stillborn TRAC series. It's mission bucks against what NASCAR has professed for the last few seasons. NASCAR adopted a high downforce, low horsepower package ahead of the 2019 season and it has been met with mostly sour responses from fans and drivers. NASCAR has pulled back a bit and lowered the downforce for short tracks and road courses but remains dug in that this is what the fan base wants.

SRX's emphasis on short track again answers the cry long heard from the NASCAR fan base over the desire to move away from 1.5-mile ovals that have proliferated over the past 25 years. NASCAR has been slow to change the makeup of its schedule and it has been seen as an anchor holding the series back.

Make no mistake that SRX is not positioning itself as a rival series to NASCAR. It is not looking to poach the top teams and drivers and hold a 20-race championship at a more affordable cost. However, it is hard to label what this series means to be.

It is not IROC. It is similar and wants to bring together IndyCar, NASCAR, sports car and drivers from multiple series, but it is intended purpose is not to be an all-star, mini championship to determine the best driver.

It is not FastMasters, but the series followed retired drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Paul Tracy and soon to be retired Jimmie Johnson on Twitter immediately after launching. Tony Stewart confirmed he would compete. The second confirmed driver was Tony Kanaan.

It is not a development series, though Evernham said one hope of the series is to give a driver a "Rocky Balboa type a chance" against some of the top drivers of the 21st century.

I am not sure what this series is and who it is for.

A series including Stewart, Earnhardt, Jr., Gordon, Tracy, Johnson and Kanaan sounded great from 2003 to 2006, but in 2021, does an appetite exist for a senior series? All these drivers are at least in their 40s with Tracy the oldest at 51 years old. All had their share of the fanbase 15 years ago and some still have admirers now, but will people follow to see these drivers compete in a series with an average age of 45?

Competition and saturation led to the demise of IROC. The series had a strong run in the 1990s and into the 2000s, but at the same time NASCAR was growing in popularity, IndyCar split and there were two series and sports car racing split and did the same thing. Television time became tougher to come by. The series lost value to sponsors. Drivers became specialized and isolation from the motorsports world outside their own bubble.

In the mid-2000s, IROC vanished because it could no longer squeeze into the table to get its necessary nutrition.

In the nearly 15 years since IROC folded, things have started to turn around from the hyper-specialization and division that have dominated the last 30 years. We are hungry for an all-star competition that brings together the best of every series. We want something that is different. There are still many obstacles, from sponsorship conflicts and contractual restrictions, but more than ever would an all-star series draw attention.

Drivers are talking about more cross-pollination than they ever did during the heights of IROC. It has been six years since Kurt Busch did The Double, competing in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. At the time, Busch was the first driver to do it in a decade. Jimmie Johnson is openly flirting with an IndyCar opportunity next year and Johnson will be testing an IndyCar this week on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch is very interested in attempting the Indianapolis 500. Fernando Alonso skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to run Indianapolis and he moved into sports car racing with Toyota while wrapping up his time with McLaren in Formula One.

IndyCar and the NASCAR Cup Series shared a weekend this year and that will likely happen again in 2021 or 2022. The motorsports world is more connected and series are more interested in one another than ever before. An IROC-ish series has legs in 2020, but that isn't necessarily what we will get with SRX.

SRX is looking to stand on its own, and we are seeing that with its desired schedule and television partner. SRX isn't looking to run an additional event when NASCAR is at Bristol or Martinsville or when IndyCar is at Iowa or Gateway. It wants to go to the short tracks below the top level of American motorsports. Regional legends such as Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, Stafford Spring in Connecticut and the Nashville Fairgrounds are the venues Evernham expressed as desired locations. Eldora and Knoxville were two of the dirt tracks listed.

IROC events happen concurrently with NASCAR or IndyCar weekends. A few drivers would have to travel, but some were already at the track. If SRX hopes to attract the current top drivers, it will likely force NASCAR drivers to travel the night before an event and possibly across the country, same for IndyCar. One or two events could fall on idle weekends for the series, but if the hope is for six or eight current drivers to compete there will be conflicts and those conflicts will hurt the series.

Add to it CBS is the television partner for this series. I don't think NBC is going to be accommodating to make sure NASCAR and IndyCar drivers can make a race being shown on CBS.

CBS has been relatively out of the motorsports game since NASCAR left its airwaves in 2000. There were the time-buy Champ Car and American Le Mans Series races and CBS did show a handful of Formula One races but CBS has not had a serious motorsports effort for 20 years. CBS' cable sports network has become a hub for series such as Supercars, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, World of Outlaws and the SRO GT Series from around the globe, but CBS is not heavily invested in these properties. It is more filler for the cable network. Races are typically shown significantly delayed using world feed announcers.

This series will get a few races on network CBS, but majority will fall behind the CBS All Access paywall, similar to what CBS did with the National Women's Soccer League Challenge Cup that wrapped up this weekend. Events are heading to streaming platforms, but if you are a series with no social capital it is going to be hard to attract a following on a streaming service where events are not broadcasted but narrowcasted.

SRX is setup to be a one-off series that quickly becomes a brief chapter in motorsports history or another entry in the book of failed motorsports experiments. Over the next 12 months the series has to establish its identity, who will be competing, where it will be competing and why it matters. It has to be more than just another filler entity on a cable sports network or streaming service. It has to drum up excitement to survive beyond year one and secure life for the next four or five years.

This series has the fixing to standout and gather a respectable audience but could be suffocated because of the number of competitors and fail to be more than a gnat buzzing in your ear.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Fabio Quartararo but did you know...

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup race from Kansas, his fifth victory of 2020. Brandon Jones won the Grand National Series race, his second victory of the season. Austin Hill and Matt Crafton split the Truck races, their first victories of 2020 and Crafton's first since Eldora in 2017.

Enea Bastianini won the Moto2 race from Jerez. Tatsuki Suzuki won the Moto3 race. Dominique Aegerter won the MotoE race, his first MotoE victory and first grand prix victory since Germany 2014 in Moto2.

The #31 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Kelvin van der Linde, Mirko Bortolotti and Matthieu Vaxivière won the 3 Hours of Imola.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One is back with the British Grand Prix from Silverstone.
NASCAR will be in Loudon.
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters opens its 2020 season with its first visit to Spa-Francorchamps since 2005.
World Superbike is back in competition and Jerez hosts motorcycles for a third consecutive week.
IMSA is at Road America.
Indy Pro 2000 and U.S. F2000 will run triple-headers at Mid-Ohio.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Let's Look at the League - July 2020

Six IndyCar races are in the bag, and that is a little behind the original schedule, but at least we are moving forward. The halfway point is around the corner and the Indianapolis 500 is not far after that.

It took many iterations of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series calendar to get to this point. Some races fell away, a few others were moved and expanded. Doubleheaders popped up at venues that otherwise would have hosted one IndyCar race. Indianapolis Motor Speedway got a third event. The season opener has become the season finale.

And we aren't out of the woods yet. We could have more calendar shakeups. Nothing is set in concrete. A few events could be cancelled, and IndyCar could be left with a shorter schedule or hustling to find two or three substitute venues.

With all these changes, the fictional league format I have devised for IndyCar has seen revisions, but more are necessary. Instead of making revision after revision when IndyCar was in the midst of its own revisions, I decided to do one large revision reeal instead of chasing it and doing three or four smaller ones. After all, this is a fictional, hypothetical thing. You cannot spend too much time on the hypothetical. After setting this season in March, and then doing the first revision in April, waiting until July after some races were on the board made the most sense.

The biggest problem is the schedule. With seven races from the original schedule cancelled and only four events added to boost the 2020 calendar to 14 races, the original plan did not work. It was three weeks short.

In the first revision, I included Indianapolis 500 qualifying to fill out a week of head-to-head matchups. The problem was Richmond and Toronto were both still scheduled to happen at that time and now will not.

What to do?

Since events are hard to come by and we are not sure what will actually happen, the best thing to do was to include what I could.

I decided Texas qualifying would count for week one. It was not ideal but it is straight-forward, everyone gets a lap and whoever qualifies best out of that matchup wins.

The Texas race, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Road America doubleheader, Iowa doubleheader, Mid-Ohio, Indianapolis 500 qualifying, Indianapolis 500, Gateway, Portland and Laguna Seca doubleheader rounded out the 14-week schedule.

Instead of having an eight-team playoff, that has been paired down to a four-team playoff with the top two from each conference advancing. Only the bottom from each conference will be relegated and the only the top two from league two will be promoted.

Where are we after seven weeks?

League One Results:

#1 Penske vs. #7 AMSP (1 to 20)
#9 Ganassi vs. #20 ECR (2 to 13)
#12 Penske vs. #55 Coyne (6 to 16)
#30 RLLR vs. #15 RLLR (22 to 7)

#22 Penske vs. #98 Andretti (3 to 11)
#27 Andretti vs. #14 Foyt (8 to 10)
#10 Ganassi vs. #5 AMSP (9 to 18)
#28 Andretti vs. #18 Coyne (4 to 23)

Week 2 (TEXAS):
#1 Penske vs. #20 ECR (3 to 5)
#9 Ganassi vs. #7 AMSP (1 to 9)
#12 Penske vs. #15 RLLR (13 to 17)
#30 RLLR vs. #55 Coyne (24 to 23)

#22 Penske vs. #14 Foyt (2 to 10)
#27 Andretti vs. #98 Andretti (15 to 14)
#10 Ganassi vs. #18 Coyne (20 to 21)
#28 Andretti vs. #5 AMSP (8 to 12)

Week 3 (GPOI):
#1 Penske vs. #55 Coyne (7 to 19)
#9 Ganassi vs. #15 RLLR (1 to 2)
#12 Penske vs. #7 AMSP (20 to 26)
#30 RLLR vs. #20 ECR (10 to 12)

#22 Penske vs. #5 AMSP (3 to 8)
#27 Andretti vs. #18 Coyne (25 to 9)
#10 Ganassi vs. #98 Andretti (15 to 22)
#28 Andretti vs. #14 Foyt (13 to 21)

#1 Penske vs. #15 RLLR (14 to 7)
#9 Ganassi vs. #12 Penske (1 to 2)
#30 RLLR vs. #7 AMSP (9 to 15)
#55 Coyne vs. #20 ECR (3 to 21)

#22 Penske vs. #18 Coyne (6 to 12)
#27 Andretti vs. #10 Ganassi (19 to 18)
#28 Andretti vs. #98 Andretti (4 to 22)
#5 AMSP vs. #14 Foyt (15 to 20)

#1 Penske vs. #30 RLLR (9 to 8)
#9 Ganassi vs. #55 Coyne (12 to 7)
#12 Penske vs. #20 ECR (11 to 18) 
#15 RLLR vs. #7 AMSP (23 to 21)

#22 Penske vs. #28 Andretti (13 to 22)
#27 Andretti vs. #5 AMSP (3 to 2)
#10 Ganassi vs. #14 Foyt (1 to 20)
#18 Coyne vs. #98 Andretti (6 to 19)

Week 6 (IOWA):
#1 Penske vs. #12 Penske (5 to 21)
#9 Ganassi vs. #30 RLLR (2 to 10)
#15 RLLR vs. #20 ECR (12 to 15)
#55 Coyne vs. #7 AMSP (11 to 3)

#22 Penske vs. #10 Ganassi (1 to 14)
#27 Andretti vs. #28 Andretti (6 to 16)
#18 Coyne vs. #14 Foyt (11 to 18)
#5 AMSP vs. #98 Andretti (4 to 22)

Week 7 (IOWA):
#1 Penske vs. #9 Ganassi (1 to 5)
#12 Penske vs. #30 RLLR (2 to 21)
#15 RLLR vs. #55 Coyne (3 to 14)
#20 ECR vs. #7 AMSP (23 to 6)

#22 Penske vs. #27 Andretti (4 to 8)
#10 Ganassi vs. #28 Andretti (15 to 22)
#18 Coyne vs. #5 AMSP (18 to 12)
#14 Foyt vs. #98 Andretti (11 to 10)

Conference 1 standings:
#1 Penske 5-2
#9 Ganassi 5-2
#12 Penske 5-2
#15 RLLR 4-3
#55 Coyne 3-4
#30 RLLR 3-4
#7 AMSP 3-4
#20 ECR 0-7

Conference 2 standings:
#22 Penske 6-1
#10 Ganassi 6-1
#28 Andretti 4-3
#18 Coyne 4-3
#5 AMSP 3-4
#27 Andretti 2-5
#98 Andretti 2-5
#14 Foyt 0-7

What do the results tell us?
Felix Rosenqvist is the luckiest man on the grid.

Despite having one top ten finish, Rosenqvist has lost only one matchup. He topped Patricio O'Ward in Texas qualifying. In the Texas race, he was against Santino Ferrucci. Ferrucci retired just before Rosenqvist's accident, giving Rosenqvist a victory by a position.

At the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Rosenqvist was against Marco Andretti and his 15th over Andretti's 22nd. In the first Road America race, it was Rosenqvist against Alexander Rossi. Rosenqvist had mechanical issues, but Rossi had an off on lap one and then made contact with Max Chilton and dropped him to 19th, a spot behind Rosenqvist.

Rosenqvist was 4-0 and his best result was ninth in Texas qualifying. Then he won at Road America and it was all gravy against Dalton Kellett. He lost to Simon Pagenaud in the first Iowa race, but won against Ryan Hunter-Reay in the second Iowa race despite finishing 15th, because Hunter-Reay spun and was 22nd.

Scott Dixon has been on the money. Dixon's victories at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the first Road America race was against Graham Rahal and Will Power, the drivers who finished runner-up in those respective races. Dixon's losses are to Álex Palou in the second Road America race and to Josef Newgarden, who won the second Iowa race.

I think this puts into perspective the Andretti Autosport struggles.

Ryan Hunter-Reay started 4-0 against Ferrucci, O'Ward, Kellett and Andretti. He lost to Pagenaud, Rossi and Rosenqvist.

Rossi started 1-4 with a win over Tony Kanaan in Texas qualifying, but lost to Andretti, Ferrucci, Rosenqvist and O'Ward in succession. He bounced back with a win over Hunter-Reay but then lost to Pagenaud. Rossi has been in the top ten in four of seven week but is only 2-2 in those weeks.

Andretti split the Texas events, losing to Pagenaud in qualifying, but besting Rossi in the race. He lost the next four to Rosenqvist, Hunter-Reay, Ferrucci and O'Ward, before beating Kanaan in the second Iowa race by a position.

Coincidentally, the two teams in league one that are split between multiple drivers are both 0-7.

The #20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet has not found luck with either Ed Carpenter or Conor Daly. In Carpenter's four oval weeks, he lost to Dixon in Texas qualifying, lost to Newgarden in the race despite finishing fifth, lost by three spots to Rahal in the first Iowa race despite Rahal finishing 12th and then he was the first car out in race two from Iowa.

Daly lost out to Takuma Sato by two spots at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, crashed out of the first Road America race as Palou finished third, and in the second race he was 18th with Will Power in 11th.

The #14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet lost out to Rossi in Texas qualifying by two spots and then Kanaan was paired with eventually runner-up Simon Pagenaud in the race. At Iowa, Kanaan was 18th in race one and Palou was 11th, and Kanaan lost out to Andretti by a spot in race two and Kanaan was ahead of Andretti for most of that final stint before Andretti got him late.

Dalton Kellett's three finishes have been 21st, 20th and 20th and in those races he was paired with Hunter-Reay (13th), O'Ward (15th) and Rosenqvist (1st) respectively.

What does the playoff picture look like?
In conference one, it is a three-way tie at the top between Dixon, Newgarden and Power. Head-to-head, Dixon beat Power at the IMS road course and Newgarden beat both Power and Dixon at Iowa.

Rahal is one game out with Palou, Sato and Oliver Askew all two out. It is still up for grabs.

Conference two is more of a runaway. Pagenaud and Rosenqvist are 6-1 and each have a two-game cushion over Ferrucci and Hunter-Reay. O'Ward is three out, Rossi and Andretti are four out.

Is the relegation battle already over?
I think it is in conference one. I think it is asking a lot to overcome a three-game gap with half the season to go, especially when Daly is paired with Dixon for Mid-Ohio, Carpenter has Newgarden for Indianapolis 500 qualifying and Daly has Power at Portland.

In conference two, I think the #14 Foyt entry has a shot because Marco Andretti hasn't been that good and if wasn't for a late pass, the two entries would be 1-6 each with the #14 Foyt ahead of the #98 Andretti based on head-to-head. The only problem is I do not feel comfortable with Dalton Kellett, who is scheduled for three of the final seven events. Kellett is against Rossi for Mid-Ohio and Ferrucci and Andretti at Laguna Seca. It very well could come down to Kellett vs. Andretti in that second Laguna Seca race.

League Two Results:

Week 1:
#88 AHSR vs. #60 MSR (14 to 21)
#21 ECR vs. #8 CGR (24 to 17)
#26 Andretti vs. #31 Carlin (Walkover)
#59 Carlin vs. #4 Foyt (19 to 12)

Week 2:
#88 AHSR vs. #8 CGR (7 to 19)
#21 ECR vs. #60 MSR (22 to 16)
#26 Andretti vs. #4 Foyt (4 to 11)
#59 Carlin vs. #31 Carlin (Walkover)

Week 3:
#88 AHSR vs. #31 Carlin (Walkover)
#21 ECR vs. #4 Foyt (5 to 18)
#26 Andretti vs. #60 MSR (14 to 17)
#59 Carlin vs. #8 CGR (6 to 12)

Week 4:
#88 AHSR vs. #4 Foyt (5 to 11)
#21 ECR vs. #26 Andretti (13 to 16)
#59 Carlin vs. #60 MSR (17 to 23)
#31 Carlin vs. #8 CGR (Walkover)

Week 5:
#88 AHSR vs. #59 Carlin (5 to 15)
#21 ECR vs. #31 Carlin (Walkover)
#26 Andretti vs. #8 CGR (16 to 4)
#4 Foyt vs. #60 MSR (10 to 17)

Week 6:
#88 AHSR vs. #26 Andretti (19 to 23)
#21 ECR vs. #59 Carlin (20 to 8)
#4 Foyt vs. #8 CGR (17 to 9)
#31 Carlin vs. #60 MSR (Walkover)

Week 7:
#88 AHSR vs. #21 ECR (17 to 19)
#26 Andretti vs. #59 Carlin (20 to 13)
#4 Foyt vs. #31 Carlin (Walkover)
#8 CGR vs. #60 MSR (7 to 9)

League Two standings:
#88 AHSR 6-1
#8 Ganassi 5-2
#59 Carlin 4-3
#21 ECR 4-3
#26 Andretti 3-4
#4 Foyt 3-4
#60 MSR 3-4
#31 Carlin 0-7

Why is the #31 Carlin entry included?
The schedule being use was drafted back in April or May before one of the final schedule revisions. At that time, we all thought Carlin would have two cars. When the #31 entry was not at Texas and the team made it sound like a one-off, I treated it as such. Since the car has not been full-time, I figured I would be easier for everyone to get a free victory when against the absent Carlin entry.

I could have erased it and made it a bye-week for everyone, but I am keeping the door open in case the car returns for a few races. That is unlikely, but if it does it would be better to have an extra matchup than have a vacancy.

There is no harm if the #31 Carlin does not appear. It is in league two, it cannot be relegated any further and if it is coming back for 2021 then it resumes as it was and if it doesn't reappear, we will realign the leagues and entries like we did for 2020. See the addition of the #8 Ganassi entry and the #60 Meyer Shank Racing entry.

Is the promotion battle over?
No. Remember last year how strong Colton Herta started? Despite that start, Herta was not promoted. He had too many retirements and that allowed the #14 Foyt entry and the #18 Coyne entry to be promoted while the car that won two races was left in the lower league.

There is a lot of time left and a two-game lead over third is not a lot. Daly is a strong driver in the #59 Carlin Chevrolet but he has only one event left. With Max Chilton scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500, Daly's only other time in the #59 Carlin Chevrolet is Gateway. Daly is 3-1 in the #59 this year and Chilton is 1-2. Chilton has to be superb to get the #59 Carlin entry up to league one. Chilton will get one break as the #59 Carlin entry is against the #31 Carlin entry for the Indianapolis 500. He couldn't possibly screw that up, could he?

Carlin aside, it is too tight to rule anyone out. Could Charlie Kimball and Jack Harvey get hot late? Absolutely. Could Ericsson hit a rough patch? You bet. It would be silly to rule any of it out.

Remaining Schedule

League One
Week 8 (MID-OHIO):
#1 Penske vs. #7 AMSP
#9 Ganassi vs. #20 ECR
#12 Penske vs. #55 Coyne
#30 RLLR vs. #15 RLLR

#22 Penske vs. #98 Andretti
#27 Andretti vs. #14 Foyt
#10 Ganassi vs. #5 AMSP
#28 Andretti vs. #18 Coyne

Week 9 (“500” QUALIFYING):
#1 Penske vs. #20 ECR
#9 Ganassi vs. #7 AMSP
#12 Penske vs. #15 RLLR
#30 RLLR vs. #55 Coyne

#22 Penske vs. #14 Foyt
#27 Andretti vs. #98 Andretti
#10 Ganassi vs. #18 Coyne
#28 Andretti vs. #5 AMSP

Week 10 (INDIANAPOLIS 500):
#1 Penske vs. #55 Coyne
#9 Ganassi vs. #15 RLLR
#12 Penske vs. #7 AMSP
#30 RLLR vs. #20 ECR

#22 Penske vs. #5 AMSP
#27 Andretti vs. #18 Coyne
#10 Ganassi vs. #98 Andretti
#28 Andretti vs. #14 Foyt

Week 11 (GATEWAY):
#1 Penske vs. #15 RLLR
#9 Ganassi vs. #12 Penske
#30 RLLR vs. #7 AMSP
#55 Coyne vs. #20 ECR

#22 Penske vs. #18 Coyne
#27 Andretti vs. #10 Ganassi
#28 Andretti vs. #98 Andretti
#5 AMSP vs. #14 Foyt

Week 12 (PORTLAND):
#1 Penske vs. #30 RLLR
#9 Ganassi vs. #55 Coyne
#12 Penske vs. #20 ECR
#15 RLLR vs. #7 AMSP

#22 Penske vs. #28 Andretti
#27 Andretti vs. #5 AMSP
#10 Ganassi vs. #14 Foyt
#18 Coyne vs. #98 Andretti

Week 13 (LAGUNA SECA):
#1 Penske vs. #12 Penske
#9 Ganassi vs. #30 RLLR
#15 RLLR vs. #20 ECR
#55 Coyne vs. #7 AMSP

#22 Penske vs. #10 Ganassi
#27 Andretti vs. #28 Andretti
#18 Coyne vs. #14 Foyt
#5 AMSP vs. #98 Andretti

Week 14 (LAGUNA SECA):
#1 Penske vs. #9 Ganassi
#12 Penske vs. #30 RLLR
#15 RLLR vs. #55 Coyne
#20 ECR vs. #7 AMSP

#22 Penske vs. #27 Andretti
#10 Ganassi vs. #28 Andretti
#18 Coyne vs. #5 AMSP
#14 Foyt vs. #98 Andretti

League Two
Week 8:
#88 AHSR vs. #60 MSR
#21 ECR vs. #8 CGR
#26 Andretti vs. #31 Carlin
#59 Carlin vs. #4 Foyt

Week 9:
#88 AHSR vs. #8 CGR
#21 ECR vs. #60 MSR
#26 Andretti vs. #4 Foyt
#59 Carlin vs. #31 Carlin

Week 10:
#88 AHSR vs. #31 Carlin
#21 ECR vs. #4 Foyt
#26 Andretti vs. #60 MSR
#59 Carlin vs. #8 CGR

Week 11:
#88 AHSR vs. #4 Foyt
#21 ECR vs. #26 Andretti
#59 Carlin vs. #60 MSR
#31 Carlin vs. #8 CGR

Week 12:
#88 AHSR vs. #59 Carlin
#21 ECR vs. #31 Carlin
#26 Andretti vs. #8 CGR
#4 Foyt vs. #60 MSR

Week 13:
#88 AHSR vs. #26 Andretti
#21 ECR vs. #59 Carlin
#4 Foyt vs. #8 CGR
#31 Carlin vs. #60 MSR

Week 14:
#88 AHSR vs. #21 ECR
#26 Andretti vs. #59 Carlin
#4 Foyt vs. #31 Carlin
#8 CGR vs. #60 MSR

Matchups to Watch
League One:
Mid-Ohio: Rosenqvist vs. O'Ward
Indianapolis 500 Qualifying: Newgarden vs. Carpenter, Pagenaud vs. Kanaan
Indianapolis 500: Rossi vs. Ferrucci, Hunter-Reay vs. Kanaan
Gateway: Dixon vs. Power, Rossi vs. Rosenqvist, O'Ward vs. Kanaan
Portland: Power vs. Daly
Laguna Seca I: Newgarden vs. Power, Pagenaud vs. Rosenqvist, Rossi vs. Hunter-Reay
Laguna Seca II: Newgarden vs. Dixon, Pagenaud vs. Rossi, Daly vs. Askew, Kellett vs. Andretti

League Two:
Mid-Ohio: Herta vs. Harvey
Indianapolis 500 Qualifying: Herta vs. Ericsson, Veach vs. Kimball
Indianapolis 500: Veach vs. Harvey, VeeKay vs. Kimball
Gateway: Daly vs. Harvey, Herta vs. Kimball
Portland: Kimball vs. Harvey
Laguna Seca I: Herta vs. Veach, Kimball vs. Ericsson

Laguna Seca II: Ericsson vs. Harvey

My plan is to do an update in September before the final three regular season rounds and then to do one before the Harvest Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the start of the playoffs. Hopefully scheduling changes are avoided between now and then. 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: Hello Greed

Team Penske had a dominant weekend. Josef Newgarden loves Iowa. The aeroscreen got its first validating incident. Carlin and Meyer Shank Racing had outstanding weekends. Formula one missed the rain in Hungary. American Logan Sargeant is second in the FIA Formula Three championship after three rounds, but still has some work to do. A drive-time violation determined a winner at Sebring. The Toyota Supra returned to competition in Super GT and it did not take long to reach the top. Many series started their 2020 seasons this weekend. There were a few first-time winners and Marc Márquez is already injured. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Hello Greed
IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are under new management and we are learning some of the new ways of the place.

The pandemic has curtailed certain initiatives for 2020, but we have seen some of the upgrades awaiting us. At the IndyCar/NASCAR combined weekend over Independence Day weekend, we got a glimpse of the new video boards around the 2.5-mile oval. The bathrooms showed incredible improvements. Other facilities tweaks were noted, including illuminating the front gate.

We knew Roger Penske was going to spruce up the joint. He is even spreading the wealth, having announced a $2 million purse increased back in February. However, during this pandemic, a few questionable decisions have been made and greed is at the wheel.

Plans have been made for the Indianapolis 500 to include spectators in attendance for next month's race. Around 175,000 tickets had already been sold and the hope is to be able to bring all those people through the gates next month.

For the record, it is becoming more and more foolish to think gathering 175,000 during this pandemic when the United States sets records for daily covid-19 cases on a regular basis is a good idea, especially when these 175,000 people are likely coming from around the country and potentially from around the globe. Cases in Indiana are up a little more than 9%.

Whether the Speedway reneges on its plans to have fans remains to be seen. We have a month until the event and I cannot imagine things will improve over the next 30 days to responsibly hold an event with over 100,000 people, but who said the Speedway was going to act responsibly?

Even if it is not responsible, Indianapolis Motor Speedway was ready to bring in 175,000 people. That's it. Maybe a few more but not many more; maybe fewer people actually show up, but the goal was 175,000 people at maximum capacity and the Speedway was going to keep the local blackout in place over the Indianapolis market.

The venue set a maximum attendance. It has likely sold all the tickets available for the event. That is the definition of a sellout and if it is a sellout, the blackout must be lifted. Tickets are not going to be sold race morning. A family will not be able to drive an hour and pick up four tickets race morning, at least they shouldn't be, but if you cannot get a ticket race morning then the blackout must be lifted.

On top of the blackout, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway released radio broadcast of the two editions of the Race of Two Worlds, the famed IndyCar/Formula One/sports car exhibition race held on the Monza oval in 1957 and 1958. After believing the broadcasts had been lost to history, the Speedway celebrated this find by... charging $9.99 for each broadcast to download.

I get capitalism and getting every dime you can get, but what audience is there for radio broadcasts for races held over 60 years ago? Is it justifiable to charge almost $20 for two radio broadcasts? It is only audio and you set a barrier to access history that should not exist. If these were television broadcasts, maybe I could understand the price, especially when movies are sold for $19.99.

These are two artifacts that should be easy for people to obtain. This could have been a gift to the people, something for motorsports fans to share and discuss, especially when many people are out of work or working from home and not traveling or attending races like they would have been. Instead, it becomes something a handful of people who have $20 to burn get to enjoy. It sets a barrier in fandom and that didn't have to be the case.

Charging for two radio broadcasts from over six decades ago is a poor choice and keeping the blackout is asinine during this time. It is ultimately a selfish play that should backfire and bite Penske and Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the ass.

There are plenty of local people who would have been at the track if they could be there and now they will not be able to watch the race in real-time. NBC will not be able to maximize its television rating on a non-holiday weekend and when NASCAR will be running races head-to-head with the biggest motorsports race in the network's catalog. This year's Indianapolis 500 will also likely be head-to-head with Stanley Cup playoff games, NBA playoff games, regular season baseball games and probably an NFL preseason game or two.

In 2020, this is not the year to squeeze out every cent from a person, nor is it time to make accessibility more difficult. This it the year to throw a bone or two out to people. This is the year to accept a loss and hope for a victory down the road. This is the year to build some goodwill. After years of raising ticket prices and having races not be easily available to the greatest number of people, it is time to provide a service for the people.

IndyCar is not in a position to set an entry fee for fandom, especially during a pandemic. If anything, IndyCar should throw the door open and be calling people to enter. It should be encouraging people to come in and have a good time. It should create an atmosphere people should want to return to when things return to normal.

The blackout is the least fan-friendly thing to do when people should be distanced from one another. You should not be creating more obstacles to something recreational when we have had to adopt many new restrictions in everyday life. People want easy access and access to not come at any extravagant additional cost, or in this case, without having a three or four-hour delay after the event has ended to view it.

I get that the blackout is accepted as one of the Indianapolis 500 traditions and it is in the Speedway's best business interests, but in 2020, during a pandemic, after all the adjustments we have made in our lives, it is time for Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar to make an adjustment as well. The blackout can return in 2021 or 2022 or whenever normal returns. For this year, we are already not racing on Memorial Day weekend, the blackout is another tradition to sideline for this year.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Hungarian Grand Prix, his second victory of 2020.

Robert Shwartzman and Luca Ghiotto split the Formula Two races from Hungary. Théo Pourchaire and David Beckmann split the Formula Thee races.

Fabio Quartararo won MotoGP's Spanish Grand Prix, his first MotoGP victory. Luca Marini won the Moto2 race. Albert Arenas won the Moto3 race, his second consecutive victory. Eric Granado won the MotoE race.

Austin Dillon won the NASCAR Cup race from Texas. Austin Cindric won the Grand National Series race after Kyle Busch failed post-race inspection. It is Cindric's third consecutive victory. Kyle Busch won the Truck race on the road and inspection confirmed it.

The #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac of Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani won the IMSA race from Sebring. The #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca-Gibson of Spencer Pigot and Patrick Kelly won in the LMP2 class after Henrik Hedman did not meet minimum drive time in the #81 DragonSpeed Oreca. The #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin won in GTLM class. The #14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz won in GTD class.

Scott McLaughlin, Nick Percat and Jack Le Brocq split the Supercars races from Sydney Motorsports Park. It was LeBrocq's first Supercars victory.

The #32 United Autosport Oreca-Gibson of Alex Brundle, Will Owen and Job van Uitert won the European Le Mans Series race from Circuit Paul Ricard. The #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Wayne Boyd, Tom Gamble and Robert Wheldon won in the LMP3 class. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Competition Porsche of Alessio Picariello, Michele Beretta and Christian Ried won in the GTE class.

The #37 TGR Team KeePer's Tom's Toyota of Nick Cassidy and Ryō Hirakawa won theSuper GT season opener from Fuji. The #52 Saitama Toyopet Green Brave Toyota of Kota Kawaai and Hiroki Yoshida won in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR has a Thursday night race from Kansas.
MotoGP remains at Jerez for the Andalucía Grand Prix.
GT World Challenge Europe starts its European season at Imola.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

First Impressions: Iowa 2020 Race Two

1. Last night came down to strategy and timing, tonight was all about speed and like so many times in recent memory Josef Newgarden was the class of the field at Iowa. If any driver was going to become the first pole-sitter to win at Iowa, it was Newgarden. The Tennessean puts together masterpiece after masterpiece in the Hawkeye State.

Nobody came close to touching Newgarden tonight. Patricio O'Ward rode Newgarden's coattails, but never showed the strength to yank this race from Newgarden's grasp.

Iowa is to Newgarden what Mid-Ohio is to Scott Dixon. Every time IndyCar goes to this 7/8th-mile oval, we pencil Newgarden down for the victory and 200 laps led. It is reflexive.

There was never a doubt tonight. Something obscene was the only thing that would stop Newgarden tonight. It looked easy. This was not a night for strategy. After a few races where tire compounds and fuel stints factored heavily into the results, this race was about who had the legs for a 250-lap sprint. Newgarden had everyone covered tonight and he keeps himself in the title fight.

2. Will Power needed a strong night and it ended with a runner-up result. Power was a distant second tonight. I will be honest, Newgarden was so dominant you didn't even notice who was in second for most of it because it didn't matter.

Credit to Power because after last night, he drove smart and brought the car home. Power has two runner-up finishes this year, but the rest of his results are trash. The only thing in his favor is other than Scott Dixon and his teammates, no one is having a strong season. A lot of drivers are streaky. If your highs are higher than most you will end up looking better in the end.

3. Graham Rahal rounded out the podium and this was a big turnaround from the start of the weekend. Rahal struggled and it looked like it would be a long weekend for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. But with every session and every lap, Rahal improved. It got him 12th last night and it got him third tonight. Rahal did benefit from not stopping before the Ed Carpenter caution. That probably gave him a few more positions. Either way, tonight was going to be a top ten result.

4. It wasn't last to first but last to fourth is a great night for Simon Pagenaud. Pagenaud kind of employed the same strategy as the night before. He stopped before lap 50, he leapfrogged a lot of cars and put him solidly in the top ten and he went from there. You knew the strategy the team would play. A lot of teams copied it tonight and still could't beat the guy who started last. This is why Pagenaud is at Team Penske and the rest of the field isn't there.

5. Similar to Pagenaud, Scott Dixon went from the back of the field and ended up in the top five. This is what Dixon does. He starts 18th and finishes fifth and fifth might be an underachievement. His championship lead is still a solid 49 points. He can lose that, but he likely will not. After qualifying yesterday, a lot of drivers probably thought this was a important opportunity to shave the championship deficit. Dixon made sure that wasn't the case and the next race is Mid-Ohio. Good luck beating him there.

6. Oliver Askew had a great weekend. Tonight was a little tougher than race one. Askew was stuck in the pack a little more and not stopping before that final caution set him up for a top ten finish when he may have finished just outside. In the closing laps, Askew picked up a few more spots. This was good. He threw away a good at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Road America was dismal. These races rebuild Askew's confidence.

7. Two Iowa races and two seventh-place finishes for Jack Harvey. Bravo to him. When you consider how this team fought to survive Texas, to go to Iowa and spend about 90% of the weekend in the top ten is fantastic. Harvey has not been to Iowa in five years. He didn't put a wheel wrong this year and Meyer Shank Racing has to be pleased.

8. If Alexander Rossi was not stranded back in 21st on the starting grid, he may have competed for a podium finish tonight. Rossi looked good in practice, but he had to start at the back and battle traffic. For the first half of the race he was fighting just to stay on the lead lap. Rossi went longer on the penultimate stint and caught a caution. That sealed a top ten finish for him, but this isn't the Rossi we know. Rossi shouldn't be needing a caution to pull out a top ten finish. We haven't seen Rossi or any Andretti Autosport driver this season roll into a weekend and immediately show to be the one to beat. That has to change as there are only eight races remaining.

9. Another solid night for Marcus Ericsson. I cannot say more than that. Ericsson was around ninth all night. He didn't climb too high but never dropped too low as well. Last year, Ericsson had a few strong races that didn't end with a corresponding result. He is making up for that this year.

10. Marco Andretti stole a top ten from Tony Kanaan late. Like Askew and Rossi, Andretti held off from making his final stop before the final caution came out and it allowed Andretti to finish better than he was running. This was probably a result about six or seven spots better than he was. Andretti was due a good night. This was the first race where nothing went wrong for Andretti, but he still didn't show great pace. There is room for improvement.

11. It is a shame Tony Kanaan lost a top ten result because he was up there all night. Kanaan wasn't doing anything flashy, but it was a good night for him and A.J. Foyt Racing. It is weird to think we are nearing the end for Kanaan. This was likely his final trip to Iowa. He is easing into retirement. He has already missed three races, something he hasn't done in 19 years. It is not a complete shock to the system. It is going to be odd not having him fight for top ten results.

12. One bad pit stop cost Patricio O'Ward a chance at victory. O'Ward was close to Newgarden for most of the first 70% of this race. He never really put together a challenge for the top spot, but he stayed in Newgarden's shadow. I don't think O'Ward would have won, but he would have been on the podium.

13. Speaking of losing a podium finish, Conor Daly had to stop with 35 laps to go because the team was not going to make it on fuel. Daly was third at the time and he ended up 13th. That is a tough end to an encouraging weekend for Carlin. This result should not get this team down. The speed is there and Carlin can compete for race victories.

14. Quickly through the rest of the field: Álex Palou completed 249 more laps, really didn't do anything wrong but got caught out and ended up 14th. Felix Rosenqvist was not a factor tonight and ended up 15th. I notice Rosenqvist struggle at tracks with high tire wear, which is odd to say considering he just won at Road America, but he struggled last year at Iowa and that continued into 2020. Charlie Kimball was 16th and not mentioned once. Rinus VeeKay botched a pit stop when a rear tire was not secure. It cost VeeKay valuable time. Santino Ferrucci had a bipolar night. Ferrucci was quick at the start of stint but significant time over the long run and kept dropping back. A blocking penalty was a fork in his night.

15. We need to talk about Andretti Autosport because Colton Herta was 19th, Zach Veach was 20th and Ryan Hunter-Reay lost the car on cold tires exiting pit lane and threw away a top ten result. I know Andretti Autosport had three cars in the top ten at Texas, but the team has not had a weekend where it has multiple contenders for a victory. The team hasn't had one contender for a victory. Herta was good yesterday and couldn't get the balance tonight. Veach was garbage this weekend and he is in a contract year. I am not sure how he earns a fourth year with the team. Hunter-Reay made a mistake, and the joke is he cannot avoid the cartoon anvil, but this is too frequent.

Andretti Autosport needs a massive turnaround in the second half of 2020. Right now, I would not be surprised if Andretti Autosport fails to win a race in 2020. The team has not shown it has it this year.

16. I am going to round out with Takuma Sato, who does not get a top ten and could not replicate the strategy in race two. Ed Carpenter got in the wall early. It happens.

17. Let's talk tires. I think the tire wear has gone too far in one direction. People complain when a race has fuel conservation immediately from the start. Tonight, we had tire conservation from the drop of the green flag. I don't want the track repaved, but I think Firestone needs to bring a slightly harder tire. We needed something where the drivers could run fuel song at the start of the stint and the fall off would be great but not this significant.

Firestone has done a great job bringing a competitive tire to the track at multiple venues. I feel like Iowa is heading too far in the wear direction. It is a balance. You don't want a tire that doesn't wear at all and you don't want a tire that has two good laps on an oval and then everyone is nursing the car because they don't want to be forced to stop every 40 laps.

18. I liked the doubleheader format for Iowa. An inversion could be something to try. The qualifying format worked but you had Simon Pagenaud starting last in both races because of a mechanical issue out of his control. I understand not wanting to run a second qualifying session, but I am not sure one qualifying session should set the field for two races, and that is what we got this weekend.

The only other thing I would suggest is having two different distances. NASCAR did this at Pocono where the second race was ten laps longer. Races do not last long at Iowa. I understand why both these races weren't 300 laps, but I think tonight's race could have been a 275-lap event. It would change things up and add another wrinkle.

In all likelihood, Iowa will not be a doubleheader in 2021. I am sure a lot of people would love to see a return to normal. I think we would all take normal right now. However, after seeing Road America and this weekend, I think there is room in IndyCar for one or two more doubleheader weekends. I wouldn't want doubleheaders at Road America and Iowa to mean IndyCar will leave Barber and Portland, but if IndyCar can retain the 16 race weekends it was supposed to have in 2020 and decide two can take on another race I think the series would be making a good decision.

19. After five races in 15 days, we get three weeks off. This is a crucial time for the team with the halfway point right in front of us. This is the final chance to work out any kinks teams have experienced over the first six races. There are a lot out there and some teams have more work to do than others before Mid-Ohio.