Monday, August 31, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: Inching Toward 2021 – IndyCar

This is the final day of August. I nailed the IndyCar picks for Gateway. IndyCar had another mess of a start and then had to sit through a delay because of a vehicle on a parade lap leaked fluid. We had another race end under caution. Elsewhere, Jimmie Johnson's final season could not be ending in a worse way. Spa-Francorchamps is not Ferrari friendly. Logan Sargeant is hanging on in the FIA Formula Three championship. Kody Swanson came back down to Earth. The European Le Mans Series raced at night in France. One man is on pace for a historic World Supersport season. Super Formula started its 2020 season. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking. 

Inching Toward 2021 – IndyCar
How is September a day away already? 

We are nearly two-thirds of the way through this year... this year... this terrible year... and we are supposed to look ahead, even though there is no reason to believe it will be better. 

We have to look ahead, or at least prepare for the future. We need to lay out a plan, if it is subject to change. You need a base to work from and IndyCar hopes to lay its 2021 foundation within the next month. 

There was no expectation that the 2021 IndyCar season would look all that different from 2020. There is always a hope of one or two new or returning circuits, but at the start of 2020 no one expected a shakeup in the calendar for the following year. We would have been happy if the 17 races scheduled for this year simply carried over to the following year. 

Then the pandemic came, and the 2020 season has been far from planned. Long Beach, Barber, Austin, Richmond and Toronto were all cancelled. Mid-Ohio is currently postponed. St. Petersburg shifted to late-October and uncertainty remains over whether that race will occur.

I think we would all be happy if 2021 ended up being the 2020 season that didn't happen. We would all take normal at this point. 

At the start of this month, I threw out an optimistic hypothetical for the 2021 NASCAR schedule. Let's close the month doing the same with a hypothetical IndyCar season for next year. Hopefully, 2021 will not offer negative surprises. Hopefully, the events we are uncertain about do return. Hopefully, it could look something like this...

1. St. Petersburg - March 14
Instead of ending the season, St. Petersburg is back in its slot as the season opener in the middle of March.

2. Austin - March 28
The future of Austin is unclear, and I am not just talking for IndyCar but the track in and of itself. We aren't sure if the United States Grand Prix and MotoGP will return. We think so. We hope so. However, even if Formula One and MotoGP return doesn't mean IndyCar will. I think it will, although I am not sure IndyCar fits the business model. 

Austin needs money-making events that attract people from all across the country. IndyCar isn't that. IndyCar typically draws local crowds and we aren't sure the Austin-area can draw enough of a crowd to justify keeping IndyCar.

3. Barber - April 4
Easter falls on April 11, so that means a back-to-back with Austin and Barber. 

4. Long Beach - April 18
Long Beach has already announced its 2021 date. This isn't a hypothetical. This is the plan.

5. Grand Prix of Indianapolis - May 8
As much as some liked the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Brickyard 400 weekend with NASCAR, there are better tracks for an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader than Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis provides a nice start to the month of May.

6. Indianapolis 500 - May 30
Unless Roger Penske enjoyed the late-August date more, I think the Indianapolis 500 will return to Memorial Day weekend.

7. Belle Isle - June 5
8. Belle Isle - June 6
As has been the case since 2012, Detroit follows Indianapolis and it will return as a doubleheader and likely be the only doubleheader on the calendar. 

9. Texas - June 12
No different than the last 24 years for IndyCar, a Saturday night in Texas and the NASCAR Truck Series on Friday night.

10. Road America - June 27 (Doubleheader with NASCAR)
Back in the NASCAR hypothetical, I laid out how this could work. The Grand National Series runs a 150-mile race on Saturday. IndyCar keeps its Sunday 11:30 a.m. local time start with no change to the race distance and a 50-lap Cup race could follow at 3:00 p.m. local time. 

11. Richmond - July 3
We finally get Richmond back and, because of the timing of the Road America race, this is on Independence Day weekend with a Saturday night race. Now that NASCAR isn't going to Daytona, and will actually be at Indianapolis, that window is open. Who would be against the Grand National Series race on the road course leading into IndyCar on the 0.75-mile oval? That sounds like a good night.

12. Toronto - July 11
Canada returns! And it stays in the middle of July.

13. Iowa - July 17 
No change here and it returns to being a 300-lap race.

14. Watkins Glen - August 8 (Doubleheader with NASCAR)
We need some type of surprise and this makes too much sense not to happen. 

Watkins Glen wants IndyCar back. IndyCar wants to return. Instead of struggling to find a weekend, include IndyCar in the NASCAR weekend. We already saw at Indianapolis this year an IndyCar race can start at high noon and a NASCAR race can follow. 

How could this weekend work? Friday is IndyCar practice the Grand National Series practices and qualifies. On Saturday, we get a Cup practice, IndyCar practice, Cup qualifying, Grand National Series race and IndyCar qualifying. On Sunday, IndyCar gets a warm-up at 9:00 a.m. and races at noon. The Cup race could follow at 3:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. 

Plus, this would force NASCAR to run the boot, who is against that?

This more likely will end up being IndyCar heading to a street race in Nashville, but let's dream a little bit. We can talk about Nashville later.

15. Mid-Ohio - August 22
Back on schedule and back to being a 90-lap race.

16. Gateway - August 28
Back on schedule and back to being a 248-lap, 500-kilometer race.

17. Portland - September 5
This is also assured to return. Portland signed an extension through 2023, and it found a good place on Labor Day weekend.

18. Laguna Seca - September 19
The season ends at Laguna Seca, a 90-lap race right at the end of summer and we can turn our focus to 2022.

This isn't spectacular, but we aren't looking for spectacular. We are looking for calm and comforting after this year. The IndyCar schedule as it was supposed to be at the start of 2020 is a good schedule. I think the IndyCar schedule is the Goldilocks-zone, not too long but not too short, just right. It leaves you wanting a little more but doesn't leave you feeling unsatisfied. 

It would be nice to have one or two more ovals and Watkins Glen and not have a six-month offseason, but 17 races or 18 races is just right. You don't want to get too much like Formula One. You don't want to hit 20 race weekends and keep going. You definitely don't want to be NASCAR. We should also remember IndyCar cannot afford to run much more than it does. This is the limit for the teams. They can possibly squeeze out another race or two, but an extra four races weekends are not practical in its current form. 

When looking to 2021, the pandemic will still be with us. This is not going away in the next four months. Returning to normal is further away than flipping the calendar to a New Year. We have had events with partial crowds in 2020, but most events have been behind closed doors and we have no clear idea when full attendance events can return. Does the 2021 schedule look like normal, or does it take into consideration the pandemic will still be here and restrictions will still be in place? 

Zandvoort has already said it would take a later date in the 2021 calendar in hopes it can be included with spectators in attendance. Formula One is a different animal to IndyCar. Formula One has its own issues, including having events globally in March and April when being a European-based series. Zandvoort can afford to be held in July, August or September because it would not be that difficult for the teams to go to Zandvoort after Silverstone or before Spa-Francorchamps. It is Melbourne, Shanghai and Hanoi that struggle to fit into a 2021 calendar. 

IndyCar does not have many events at the front of a calendar that are at risk. I guess you could say the first three races are the most at risk, but Long Beach isn't moving. We already saw the race could not be rescheduled for 2020. It will be April 18, 2021 or bust for Long Beach. 

After Long Beach, there is no event that could not be moved. Austin and Barber could go at the tail end of the season. St. Petersburg has already moved. I doubt the city would want that race moved to October again. 

I do not envision the 2021 IndyCar calendar having a later start and a more condensed June, July and August to accommodate all the events on weekends when they can open the gates to spectators and hopefully a capacity crowd. 

The 2021 IndyCar schedule will have to be flexible. If there is one thing we have taken away from 2020 is we must be flexible to dates changing, attendance allowance changing and so on. I hope IndyCar keeps that flexibility in mind. It cannot just put out a calendar, dust off its hands and think that is it. Every idle weekend must be a fall back in case a race has to be postponed. There should be designated makeup weekends for certain races that way the teams know if Barber cannot happen in April, it would take either an open week in August or September. The schedule has to be dynamic and there should be less scrambling in case of emergency next year. 

Hopefully, there will not be any emergencies in 2021, but the closer we get the more we have to prepare to repeat 2020.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Belgian Grand Prix, his fifth victory of 2020 and his 89th grand prix victory. 

Yuki Tsunoda and Robert Shwartzman split the Formula Two races from Spa-Francorchamps. Lirim Zindeli and Logan Sargeant split the Formula Three races. Sargeant holds a seven-point championship lead over Oscar Piastri

Devlin DeFrancesco won the Pro Mazda race from Gateway, his first career victory. 

William Byron won the NASCAR Cup Series race from Daytona, his first career victory. Justin Haley won the Grand National Series race, his second victory of the season. Sheldon Creed won the Truck race from Gateway, his third victory of the season.

The #22 United Autosport Oreca-Gibson of Filipe Albuquerque and Philip Hanson won the European Le Mans Series Le Castellett 240 from Circuit Paul Ricard, its second consecutive victory. The #8 Realteam Racing Ligier-Nissan of Esteban Garcia and David Droux won in the LMP3 class. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott won in the GTE class.

Scott Redding won the first World Superbike race while Jonathan Rea won the next two from Aragón. Andrea Locatelli swept the World Supersport races and he has won all seven races this season.

Jamie Whincup won the first two Supercars races from Townsville with Scott McLaughlin won the third.

Ryō Hirakawa won the Super Formula race from Motegi, his second career victory after first came at Motegi last year.

The #93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura of Trent Hindman and Shelby Blackstock swept the GT World Challenge America races from Road America. Michael Cooper won two of three GT4 America sprint races with Spencer Pumpelly winning the other. The #21 BimmerWorld BMW of Bill Auberlen and James Walker, the #21 Flying Lizard Motorsports Aston Martin of Michael Dinan and Robby Foley and the #71 Marco Polo Motorsports KTM of Mads Siljehaug and Nicolai Elghanayan split the GT4 America SprintX races.

Clint Vahsholtz won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, his first overall Pikes Peak victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
Monza hosts the Italian Grand Prix. 
NASCAR has the Southern 500.
IMSA will have a six-hour race at Road Atlanta.
World Superbike remains in Aragón. 
Supercars remain in Townsville.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters head to Assen. 
GT World Challenge Europe sprint series will have a round at the Nürburgring.
World Rally Championship has its first round since March, and it will be in Estonia.
The Road to Indy Series will run on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on September 3-4. Both series will run tripleheaders. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

First Impressions: Gateway 2020 Race Two

1. With the green flag nature of this race, pit stops were important, and how cars cycled were going to determine this race. After spending most of yesterday in the middle of the field when pitting on the wrong side of caution, Josef Newgarden started at the front, stayed in touching distance of the lead and had a caution fall in his favor. 

Newgarden didn't power to the front but kept the car in the top three or four. He remained in the fight and when the final round of pit stops came, he had a drag race exiting with Patricio O'Ward. Newgarden held the inside of the access lane and got ahead of O'Ward. Meanwhile, Will Power had been leading but caught traffic entering pit lane, costing him time. Newgarden and O'Ward jumped ahead of Power and that was it for the race. 

Newgarden and O'Ward pulled away in the closing laps and O'Ward didn't have enough to make a run in the closing laps. Last week, Takuma Sato benefitted from a late caution. This week, Sato was the caution with four laps to go, and it sealed the victory for Newgarden. I didn't think O'Ward was going to make a push, but the caution allowed Newgarden an easier final four laps. 

There is a reason why Newgarden is a two-time champion, and part of that reason is Tim Cindric, but another part of it is Newgarden's oval ability. Yesterday was an anomaly. It was not a good day, but how often do we see Newgarden not have a top ten car? It is rare. Today, things went his way. Newgarden is really the lone championship challenger for Scott Dixon. There is either three races to go or five races to go. If it is three, Newgarden has to sweep the races and get some help. If it is five, Newgarden still has to win most of the races and have a tiny bit of help. Newgarden will do all he can to defend his title.

2. I said Newgarden is the lone championship challenger, but Patricio O'Ward was second today, his third podium finish of the season and O'Ward is third in the championship. He hasn't finished worse than 12th this year. 

O'Ward has a shot at the title but with Dixon on four victories and Newgarden on two victories, O'Ward will have to win a few races. Those two aren't going to slip up. O'Ward has looked great this year. We are out of ovals, but I think he could win one of the remaining three or five races. We could have two doubleheaders and O'Ward has been strong in doubleheaders. 

Credit to Arrow McLaren SP as well because the pit stops have been great. That team has helped O'Ward be in this position. 

3. Will Power is the angriest man on the podium every time. Power felt he was the best driver today and he has a point. He ran strong, led multiple times and prior to that final round of stops, he was keeping back O'Ward and Newgarden. Traffic was not on his side. 

The anger is pushing asking for termination from Team Penske. Typically, drivers that question strategy at Team Penske and chew out the crew over the radio don't stick around long afterward. Power did that after his final stop. He was upset he didn't stop earlier and lost time. I get it, I don't think Penske is canning Power, but more than any other year Power has been irate, even on good days. 

We have not seen Power happy one day this season. It has not been a great year for Power, but you would think a third-place finish, his third podium of the season would at least left him with a little smile. It hasn't. 

4. The strategy worked yesterday, so Rinus VeeKay and Ed Carpenter Racing doubled down and got a fourth-place finish. VeeKay started 18th and was the first to stop. This jumped him into the top three. I was surprised no one else came earlier than VeeKay. He had climbed up to 12th before the first round of pit stops. After seeing what he did yesterday, I thought a driver between sixth and tenth should come around lap 45, just to get out of the pack and have clean air. I think if one of those guys in the back half of the top ten had done that he would have gotten the lead. VeeKay went from 12th to third! It was going to work. 

VeeKay did make a confident pass on Colton Herta for fourth into turn three. VeeKay did chop down on Herta a little. I understand why Herta was upset, but it wasn't the worst move in the world.

5. Scott Dixon rounded out the top five and when Dixon enters with a 117-point lead, he can afford to finish third. His gap to Newgarden is down to 96 points. If there are three more races, Dixon is fine and could lock this up with two races to go. If there are five races to go, Dixon is still fine but there is more wind in Newgarden's sails. If there are five races, two of those, hopefully, will be at Mid-Ohio. Dixon is fine. 

6. Colton Herta went long on his first two stints and it could have allowed Herta to go long on his final stint, stop with about 30 laps to go and have a sprint to the finish with less fuel and fresher tires. Instead, Herta stopped 44 laps from the finish and came out in fourth. 

Traffic likely dictated that early stop. He could not afford to lose too much time. With how difficult it is to pass at Gateway, Herta could not go much longer. He might have ended up coming out in seventh or eighth or worse. But, after seeing what Takuma Sato did late yesterday, maybe Herta comes out in fourth or fifth and can chase and pass the leaders.

Newgarden caught traffic in the final 15 laps. If Herta had the tires, he might have been able to run him down. We will never know. 

Herta was looking to replicate his first race finish for the fourth time in four doubleheaders, but he ran wide in turn one, it allowed VeeKay to make that run, VeeKay passed Herta and sent Herta up the track in turns three and four and Dixon took fifth. Herta coughed up some points, but not much. This could have been a better result, but this was still a good result.

7. Felix Rosenqvist quietly finished seventh, which after not having a top ten finish in Rosenqvist's prior three starts and after finishing eighth yesterday, I am sure he will take it. He has reset his best oval finish in the last two days. I think he wanted at least one top ten finish on an oval this year. He got two. I think that checks off one goal for this season for the Swede.

8. Conor Daly was eighth, but this was the best he was going to do. A good result and an encouraging result for Carlin. I don't think he can lose sight of what Daly did for Carlin this year. Five starts, four top ten finishes, a pole position and he led laps in two races. Carlin has speed. This was a tough year for the team with the second car not having the funding to run. 

This team is ready to be a contender. It just needs to have the pieces fall in place. Maybe Daly can be full-time with this team next year. That would be a great start for the organization. Maybe Max Chilton moves to a second car to run road and street courses and Tony Kanaan gets it on ovals. I think Kanaan would take that deal.

9. Takuma Sato got high exiting turn two and ran against the wall. The contact didn't take a tire off, but it did cost Sato two positions. He was able to keep running and get a top ten but if this race had gone green, I am not sure Sato would have been able to make turn one. 

Sato made a mistake and still finished ninth. When you're hot, you're hot.

10. Santino Ferrucci rounded out the top ten. It was another great start for Ferrucci, but he did not make much progress after getting six spots early. Part of that is strategy, which is odd because Dale Coyne Racing historically has been strong on strategy. Ferrucci has oval pace. He hasn't put a foot wrong yet. Overall, his oval results were down, but Ferrucci has been better on road and street courses. He could get a top ten championship finish.

11. Ryan Hunter-Reay was stuck in 11th all race. This has not been a great year for Andretti Autosport.

12. Álex Palou was out there and finished 12th. Palou did nothing spectacular but did nothing poorly either. He is still new to ovals. Finishing on the lead lap at Gateway is a good day for the rookie. 

13. Jack Harvey stopped just after VeeKay I believe, and that strategy did not work for him. This weekend's results will not accurately show the pace Harvey had.

14. Quickly through the rest of the field: Alexander Rossi had to go to a backup car after yesterday's accident and with no practice, all Rossi had on this car was a few instillation laps. He wasn't going to do much better than 14th. Marco Andretti was 15th and tried to go long on each stint. It got Andretti some ground but not a lot. Like Rossi, Simon Pagenaud was lost in this race. I am not sure what happened to Oliver Askew to have him in 17th. I guess it just wasn't a good day, but Askew was not a disaster. Charlie Kimball was 18th and that is about it. Kimball went long on each stint, but mostly held up drivers who had already stopped. 

15. I want to give Tony Kanaan his due, because this could be it. I don't think it will be. I think Kanaan will be back at Indianapolis next year because he wants to race in front of spectators one more time. Kanaan said he wanted to do the ovals next year as well. I think Carlin splitting Chilton and Kanaan in a car with Daly full-time would be a smart move for the team. I am not sure the oval-only schedule will happen in 2021, but I will not rule it out. Indianapolis is almost definite. I think Kanaan could be an Indianapolis one-off for the next two or three years if he would like. 

The last three years were not the greatest for Kanaan. It was tough going into this year thinking about his consecutive start streak ending. IndyCar was always going to have to accept Tony Kanaan would not always be there. I think this year has been good, as he has transitioned from full-time competition. 

He will be missed, but he will still hang around, the same way Dario Franchitti, Bryan Herta, Jimmy Vasser, Max Papis, Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Townsend Bell, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti are still hanging around IndyCar. Kanaan will not be completely gone from IndyCar. He will just have a different capacity. 

16. It is amazing to see how Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal were on completely different pages this weekend. Unlike Iowa, where Rahal started slow and improved, Rahal was lost all weekend. This second race was a glorified test session. Unfortunately, Rahal was fifth in the championship entering today. He could not afford a day like this. 

17. I am sure yesterday's accident didn't help, but Ed Carpenter was basically in a glorified test session as well. Zach Veach was just in the way today. Veach annoyed a few drivers out there, notably Dixon. Marcus Ericsson had a loose rear wing force an unscheduled pit stop and cost Ericsson a possible top ten finish.

18. I liked the twin-250 format. Both races were three-stop races, but the strategy could vary. We saw drivers stop early and gain ground. In race one, an untimely caution shook things up. Passing is difficult at Gateway, and it hasn't gotten much better in four years. I get if people are not thrilled with the only way to improve positions being through pit cycles. You have to wait 40-60 laps to see it play out. Unless Firestone brings a tire that is garbage after 20 laps and has cars sliding around and lifting more into the corners, this is how Gateway is always going to play out. 

I hope IndyCar can do something just to bring in a little more passing. I am not expecting Indianapolis-esque slipstreams, and this problem exists at many IndyCar ovals, when the leaders catch the tail end of the field, cars need to be getting lapped. Everyone today was consistently running laps between 26.3 to 26.9 seconds today. That is only a half to a full second slower than the fastest times. There needs to be greater fall off. You need cars actually negotiating traffic, not just sitting behind it waiting for pit stops. 

19. We are either going to see you in two weeks for a doubleheader at Mid-Ohio or in over a month for the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. I hope Mid-Ohio happens, but if it comes down to whether or not spectators are allowed, I think that race could be fully canned or moved elsewhere. That part of Ohio is not best suited for attended events at this time. We will have to wait and see. Maybe the state of Ohio allows some spectators or Mid-Ohio hosts the race behind closed doors. If it depends on allowing spectators, we could be looking at another schedule revision. 

Morning Warm-Up: Gateway 2020 Race Two

Takuma Sato flying high at Gateway

Takuma Sato picked up his tenth career pole position in qualifying yesterday with a lap of 24.6577 seconds for the second race of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 from Gateway. This is Sato's fourth career pole position on an oval. His finishes in those prior three oval pole positions are 19th, 13th and 15th and he has only finished on the lead lap once in those three races. The only time Sato has won from pole position in his career was at Barber last year. Sato enters this race off the back of consecutive podium finishes. He has never had three consecutive podium finishes in his IndyCar career. He won at Long Beach in 2013 and then finished second at São Paulo. Last year, he was third at Indianapolis and the first Belle Isle race. 

Josef Newgarden will start second after falling 0.003 seconds off Sato's time in qualifying. Newgarden is coming off a 12th-place finish in race one from Gateway, his worst oval finish since 13th at Texas in 2018. Newgarden had never finished worse than seventh at Gateway prior to yesterday. Newgarden has won from second starting position five times in his career, more than any other starting position.

Will Power was 0.0034 off Sato and will start third. Power has finished outside the top ten in six of eight races this season. He has finished outside the top fifteen in three of four Gateway starts. Power has won an oval race in four consecutive seasons and six of the last seven seasons. The only time Power has finished better than his starting position in 2020 was the first Road America race, when he started fifth and finished second. He started and finished second in the second Iowa race.

Patricio O'Ward was third yesterday and he will start fourth in race two. O'Ward led 94 laps before dropping to third. This was the third consecutive Gateway race where the driver who led the most laps did not win the race. This will be O'Ward's 17th start. The last driver to pick up a first career victory in a 17th career star was Will Power at Las Vegas on Easter Sunday, April 8. 2007. Mario Domínguez also scored his first career victory in his 17th career start at Surfers Paradise in 2008. 

Jack Harvey starts in the top five for third time this season and this is Harvey's seventh time starting in the top ten this season. Prior to 2020, Harvey had only started in the top ten four times in his career and in the top five twice. Harvey has completed all but one lap on ovals this season, finishing a lap down at Texas.

Scott Dixon is coming off his 50th career victory, the third driver to reach that ilestone, and he will start sixth for the second Gateway race. Dixon's 50th victory came in his 329th start. That is 99 more starts than it took A.J. Foyt to reach 50 victories and 31 more starts than it took Mario Andretti. Dixon's 50th victory puts him two away from tying Mario Andretti for second all-time. Dixon's victory yesterday made Gateway the 25th different track he has won at, one off of Andretti's record for 26 different tracks won at. Yesterday, Dixon became the 11th different Gateway winner in 11 Gateway races.  Dixon has clinched most points on ovals this season.

Dixon extended his championship lead to 117 points over Newgarden with yesterday's victory. O'Ward has moved up to third, 130 points back with Sato and Graham Rahal rounding out the top five, 138 points and 160 points behind Dixon respectively. Depending on how many races remain, either 12 drivers or 25 drivers are mathematically alive for the championship. If the Mid-Ohio doubleheader is rescheduled, then with six races remaining, 25 drivers have a shot at the championship. If there are only four races remaining, 12 drivers are alive entering today's race.

Marcus Ericsson rolls off from seventh position for the second race, one day after starting fourth, his best starting position of the season. Ericsson has six top ten finishes this year after having three top ten finishes all of 2019. Half of those top ten finishes have come on ovals after he had one top ten on an oval all of 2019.

Simon Pagenaud starts eighth, his best starting position since he rolled off from third at Texas in the season opener. Yesterday was Pagenaud's first retirement since Long Beach 2018 and it was only the fifth retirement for the Frenchman since joining Team Penske. The only time Pagenaud has won from eighth on the grid was last year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis. 

Felix Rosenqvist starts ninth, his third time starting ninth this season. Rosenqvist started ninth in the first two races of the season, spinning out of Texas and finishing 15th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He picked up his first career top ten finish on oval yesterday with an eighth-place finish. 

Colton Herta rounds out the top ten on the grid. Herta has finished in the same position in both races of the previous three doubleheaders he has participated in. He was fourth yesterday, his first top five finish on an oval. The only oval Herta has top ten finishes at is Gateway. He was ninth in last year's race.

Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay make it an all-Andretti Autosport row six. Rossi failed to complete a lap yesterday, the first time he has failed to complete a lap in a race. His fewest laps completed in a race was 36 at Texas in 2017. It has been 15 races since Rossi's most recent victory, which was at Road America last season. Hunter-Reay will start 12th for the third time this season. This is the third time he has started 12th this season. He has not started worse than 12th. The only time Hunter-Reay has won from 12th was 2003 at Surfers Paradise, his first career victory.

Oliver Askew and Álex Palou make it an all-rookie row seven. Askew has lost the head-to-head qualifying battle with Patricio O'Ward in eight of nine races including seven consecutive races. Yesterday was the first time O'Ward finished ahead of Askew on an oval. Palou has scored the fewest oval points of the drivers to start every oval race this season. He sits on 70 oval points with his most points scored in an oval race being 19. 

Conor Daly will start 15th. Daly has finished in the top ten in all three of his Gateway starts. The only other track where Daly has three top ten finishes is Belle Isle. This will be Daly's final race with Carlin in the #59 Chevrolet. Santino Ferrucci starts 16th today after finishing 16th yesterday. Ferrucci has finished outside the top fifteen in three of five oval races this season. His worst oval finish all of 2019 was 12th. 

Zach Veach starts 17th with Rinus VeeKay next to him on row nine. Veach suffered his second retirement of the season yesterday after the accident at the start of the race. He has not had top ten finish in his last seven races. Veach has never had more than eight consecutive races without a top ten finish. VeeKay picked up his first career top ten finish on an oval coming home in sixth. 

Tony Kanaan and former Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti share row ten. Today's race comes 22 years, five months and 15 days after Kanaan made his debut at Homestead on March 15, 1998. Kanaan started 18th that day and retired after an accident on lap 33. Marco Andretti was two days removed from his 11th birthday when Kanaan made his debut and Marco's father Michael won that race at Homestead. Andretti has finished outside the top twenty in four of eight races this season.

Charlie Kimball will make his 150th start from 21st on the grid. Kimball debuted at St. Petersburg in 2011 from 23rd on the grid. Kimball's best finish at Gateway was seventh in 2017. Ed Carpenter will start 22nd, his worst starting position since starting 22nd a Pocono in 2017. Carpenter has been the top ECR finisher in two of five starts this year. 

Graham Rahal rounds out the grid from 23rd position, bookending the field for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Rahal has started 19th or worse in four of the last five races and after opening the season as the top Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing qualifier in the first four races, he has been out qualified in four of the last five outings. 

NBCSN's coverage of Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Race 2 begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:45 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 200 laps.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

First Impressions: Gateway 2020 Race One

1.  I am not sure how we ended up with 25 laps of fury between Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato, but six days after many felt slighted when a caution with five laps to go ended any late battle between the two drivers for the Indianapolis 500, we got a tremendous finish, one that saw Dixon make history becoming the third driver in IndyCar history to reach 50 career victories.

This race was not setting up for either Dixon or Sato. This race was Patricio O'Ward's until the final pit stops. We have seen it a hundred times before. Dixon knows how to place himself in a race. He doesn't have to get the position on track. He will make sure to stay on the heels of the driver ahead because he knows when it comes to pit stops, his crew cannot only make up that half a second but can make get him another second. 

O'Ward led into the pit lane, Dixon on his rear. On exit, Dixon left O'Ward in his dust. O'Ward didn't do anything wrong. O'Ward's pit crew was spotless. Dixon is Dixon and that Chip Ganassi Racing crew is the best around. 

After the pit stops, the game over, right? Dixon is out in front, he will have the lead and cruise to victory, right? Wrong! 

I am not sure how Takuma Sato went longer than the rest of the field before that final stop and still came out in striking of Dixon with 25 laps to go, but he did, and that 13 laps of fresher tires were in Sato's favor. Dixon had to work and the two drivers ran a blistering pace in the closing laps. They left O'Ward behind. Sato completed another breath-taking pass on O'Ward in his hunt of Dixon. That move was only going to work once. 

Sato could stay on Dixon's heels but the muscle was not there to wrestle the top spot away.  

This was going to be a classic Dixon victory before the battle with Sato. The Hagler-Hearns finish took it to another level. A younger driver might have folded with a charging Sato in his mirrors. Dixon showed he was not going to be beat. He learned from last week. With rolls reversed from a week ago, Dixon capitalized on the advantage of clean air and extended his place in IndyCar history.

Prepare for an early coronation ceremony because Scott Dixon does not plan on waiting for an indefinite season finale to claim his sixth IndyCar championship. We haven't had to shoot the confetti early in 15 years. That is going to change. Whether it occurs in September at Mid-Ohio or October at the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Dixon is doing all he can to ensure the rescheduled trip to St. Petersburg will be a dead rubber.

2. How did Takuma Sato pull off that strategy? 

I am serious. Sato was good today. Not great, but a top ten car, and when going through the pit cycle, you expect Sato to pit and come out in ninth or tenth and maybe gains a few spots because of tires. 

I did not realize the gap he opened up on that final stint. It was incredible, was unexpected. We were set for O'Ward's first career victory or Dixon pulling this out. We did not have Sato in contention for a second consecutive Gateway victory. Kudos to the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team. Sato deserved that runner-up finish.

3. Patricio O'Ward did nothing wrong, led the most laps and ended third. 

That final pit stop was not botched. O'Ward did nothing wrong. Dixon was just better in that situation. O'Ward drove a flawless race, unfortunately for the second time in 2020, O'Ward drove a flawless race and a Ganassi car took the victory. It first happened at Road America when Felix Rosenqvist had the legs in the closing laps. Today, Dixon showed O'Ward how you end up with 50 career victories. 

O'Ward is knocking on the door and a first career victory this year would not be a surprise. It could come tomorrow! His second bite at the apple comes in 24 hours.

4. Colton Herta was fourth, but again, this is a race where Herta was in the top five but not a contender. It is still an encouraging day, and Herta was the only Andretti car in the fight, but he was not stiffing a victory. O'Ward fell to Herta and Herta pushed for a podium finish, but Herta did not deserve to finish ahead of O'Ward today and Dixon and Sato ended up in another zip code when the race was over. 

This is a good day for Herta, but this is different from last year. Last year, when Herta was in the top five, he was a threat for victory. One year later, the results are better, Herta is not running into as many issues, but he is just off the top guys.

5. Marcus Ericsson rebounds after 32nd at Indianapolis with a fifth-place finish and his sixth top ten finish in the last seven races.

This is good for Ericsson and Chip Ganassi Racing should be happy. Ericsson could not join Ganassi and have the same results that he had at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. This is a great year for Ericsson. He is proving his worth and I think he could be a contender for a race victory. Similar to Herta, Ericsson is just off the top guys.

6. Rinus VeeKay ran a different strategy, pretty much splitting this race into thirds and stopping after 50 laps each stint. It worked for VeeKay and he finished sixth. This has not been a good year for VeeKay. I think the qualifying run at Indianapolis covered a lot of the poor days. Of course, the Indianapolis 500 was one of those bad days. VeeKay needed to bounce back and he did Ed Carpenter Racing proud.

7. Right around halfway, about half the field made pit stops and then it started sprinkling, bringing out a caution. That hurt half the field, many who were in the top ten and one of those was Ryan Hunter-Reay. The good news is Hunter-Reay ended up the best finisher of those drivers. He was seventh, which is probably as good as Hunter-Reay was going to be any way. Maybe he gets into the top five. This is good, but Hunter-Reay is another Andretti driver that is just not 100% this year.

8. Felix Rosenqvist had a moment and went from fourth to the back of the top ten on one restart. Rosenqvist held on for an eighth-place finish. He needed a good day, because his only top ten finish was his Road America victory. The results have not been consistent and have not been entirely fair for Rosenqvist. Fairness aside, he needed to get results and today was a big boost for him.

9. Tony Kanaan was ninth! That is all! He did not pit before the rain in the middle of the race and it got him a few more spots. I am happy for Kanaan.

10. Conor Daly was quick in practice yesterday and that pace did not entirely carry over. Yesterday, I was thinking Daly would be close to what we saw at Iowa. He ended up having a top ten car, but Carlin needs to find a little speed before tomorrow.

11. Jack Harvey could have been on the podium if it was not for that caution for the brief shower. Harvey was better than 11th today. It is still a good oval result. This is nothing to hang his head on.

12. This is one of Josef Newgarden's worst races on a short track in a long time. It was a top ten car. He stopped before the rain and couldn't work his way to the front afterward, ending up 12th.

13. Quickly through the rest of the field, Charlie Kimball was 13th and that is it. Oliver Askew escaped damage from the accident before the start and was 14th. We will go over the start soon. Álex Palou was wrongly scapegoated for that start crash and got a penalty but finished 15th. Santino Ferrucci had another slow stop cost him. Ferrucci might have gotten a top five, but the rain was not in his favor. He was better than 16th, but a top five would have been too generous. I think he could have been around ninth or tenth. 

14. Will Power had to stop early before the final pit window for a tire puncture. This was an odd race for Power, because he held the lead, looked strong and then lost two spots in the pit cycle. This is an odd year for Power.

15. Graham Rahal had a rag cause a gearbox problem and drop him out after 124 laps. 

16. Oh... another mess of a start. Let's take the pieces one-by-one. 

Alex Palou steps out from his spot in the grid as the field stacks up on the front straightaway. Simon Pagenaud does the same. Oliver Askew is carrying momentum, hits Pagenaud, sends Pagenaud into Alexander Rossi, Rossi spins, Zach Veach commits to going for broke from 23rd on the grid and collides into Marco Andretti and Ed Carpenter and four cars behind the pit wall before even taking the green flag. 

It seems like this happens once a year on an oval in IndyCar and it should not be the case. Another pile-up before the green flag and we saw this at Pocono. There are too many games played on the starts with the leaders speeding up and then slowing down before finally hitting the gas when the green flag is shown. It's garbage, not there are no innocent parties. Every driver does it. Will Power does it. Alexander Rossi has done it. IndyCar allows it so everyone does it.

I said after the 2018 Pocono incident to spread the field out. Why are all 23 cars covered by a blanket at the start? There is no room for error on these starts. It happened when Graham Rahal got into Spencer Pigot. If you spread the rows out, you at least decrease the likelihood of this happening.

I know many will not like hearing spread the field out, but it is the easiest solution. Look at how much space there was between each row at Indianapolis last week. You might not be able to get that much space prior for Gateway, but there is plenty of room and if you have the leader taking the green and the final three rows in turn four, then fine. That is what has to be done and that is incentive to make sure you qualify better.

This is something IndyCar should have handled years ago. You cannot have four or five cars taken out before even seeing the green flag let alone completing a lap. IndyCar could fix this before tomorrow's race. It won't! Rossi joked it reminded him of a start of an iRacing event at Michigan. IndyCar could have used that simulation as a warning for reality and worked on a solution. One is more than necessary now.

17. Quick notes on each driver taken out...

Simon Pagenaud had finished 37 consecutive races entering today. That is over. This was another day Ed Carpenter was on the wrong side of Zach Veach's mistake. Where was Veach going? I don't understand how Andretti Autosport brings him back next year. If you are Andretti, you step in and get Gainbridge to support another driver. You have J.R. Hildebrand, Spencer Pigot, Gabby Chaves, Carlos Muñoz, James Davison and James Hinchcliffe all on the sidelines. I think all would do better full-time than Veach. 

Alexander Rossi is going through a year from hell. We all are, but Rossi's is happening at work. Can't he at least have things go well at work? Rossi might have been done from the contact from Pagenaud, but Veach took out Marco Andretti and Andretti was an innocent bystander in this one. 

18. We get to it all again tomorrow! I thought the 250-mile race distance is good. It is a three-stop race no matter what. It is still difficult to pass, though the track had more rubber in it than previous years. I am not sure if the track will be better tomorrow or if the dirty air is too strong. We ended up with another exciting finish despite all that. Tomorrow could play out the same way. 

Morning Warm-Up: Gateway 2020 Race One

Patricio O'Ward showed the speed on Friday from Gateway

Patricio O'Ward topped the one and only practice session ahead of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 doubleheader at Gateway on Friday. O'Ward's best lap from the session was at 24.7890 seconds, 181.532 MPH. He was 0.0783 seconds ahead of Will Power. 

O'Ward became the third Mexican driver to win Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, joining Josele Garza and Bernard Jourdain. Not including rookie winners, the last Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year to win a race later that season was Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2008. Hunter-Reay won at Watkins Glen five races after earning Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors with a sixth-place finish. O'Ward was sixth in this year's Indianapolis 500. 

This will be O'Ward's 16th career start. The last driver to have a first career victory come in a 16th career start was Uncle Jacques Villeneuve at Road America on August 4, 1985. Other notable drivers to pick up their first career victory in their 16th career start are Tommy Milton, Ted Horn, Bill Holland, Troy Ruttman, Mario Andretti, Gordon Johncock, Mark Donohue, Danny Ongais and Emerson Fittipaldi. No driver has ever picked up a first career victory at Gateway. 

Power sits on 58 pole positions, nine off of Mario Andretti's all-time record. Gateway could become the 14th track where Power has multiple pole positions. He has started no worse than fourth in his three Gateway starts. Power has finished on the podium in the eighth races of the season the last four years. All those were at Belle Isle, but he had finishes of first, third, second and third. 

Scott Dixon was third in practice, 0.0974 off O'Ward. Dixon's runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500 was his 120th podium finish in his IndyCar career, surpassing A.J. Foyt for second all-time. Dixon is 24 podium finishes behind Mario Andretti's all-time record of 144 podium finishes. This is the fourth consecutive season Dixon has had at least five podium finishes and he has had at least five podium finishes in 12 of his last 15 seasons. Dixon started on pole position for the 2018 Gateway race after qualifying was rained out. He has never started worse than eighth at Gateway.

Conor Daly is back with Carlin after driving a third car for Ed Carpenter Racing at the Indianapolis 500 and Daly was fourth, 0.1305 seconds off the top time in practice. Daly has finished fifth and sixth in his two Gateway starts. Daly has 14 top ten finishes in his career. Nine of those 14 top ten finishes came at Belle Isle, Texas, Mid-Ohio and Gateway. Belle Isle is the track where Daly has the most top ten finishes with three.

Takuma Sato returns to Gateway and he was fifth quickest in practice, 0.1508 seconds back. Sato's victory at Indianapolis last week made the 2.5-mile oval Sato's first track he has won at multiple times. No driver has multiple victories at Gateway. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has not won consecutive races since Graham Rahal swept the Belle Isle doubleheader. It has not won consecutive oval races since 2001 when Kenny Bräck won at Chicago Motor Speedway and Lausitz. That Lausitz victory is one of two 1-2 finishes for RLLR, as Max Papis was second. The other was Kansas 2004 with Buddy Rice winning ahead of Vitor Meira. 

Jack Harvey's strong run on ovals continue as Harvey was sixth in practice, 0.1769 seconds slower than O'Ward. After starting 2020 with four consecutive finishes outside the top fifteen, Harvey has three consecutive top ten finishes. Harvey had four top ten finishes over his ten starts in 2019. He has started in the top ten five times this year, including starting ninth and sixth at Iowa last month

Álex Palou has started seventh in the last two races and Palou was seventh in practice, 0.1858 seconds off the top time. Despite those seventh-place starting positions, Palou has finished off the lead lap in the last three races. On all three occasions Palou has started in the top ten, he has finished worse than his starting position.

Car #8 was eighth in practice, as Marcus Ericsson laid down a lap at 24.9782 seconds. Ericsson had his first retirement of the season with his accident in the Indianapolis 500 after only 24 laps. He had three retirements for the entirety of 2019, but one of those was a radiator puncture and the another was after he was collateral damage at the start of Mid-Ohio when Takuma Sato got into James Hinchcliffe, knocking Hinchcliffe into Ericsson. The only retirement in 2019 to fall squarely on Ericsson's shoulders was his spin at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Rinus VeeKay looked strong again in ninth at 24.9857 seconds. VeeKay has an average finish of 19.75 on ovals this season. He has retired from two of those races and he has finished off the lead lap in the other two. Prior to qualifying fourth for the Indianapolis 500, VeeKay's best starting position was 13th at Iowa. 

Colton Herta rounded out the top ten but he was the first driver in the 25-second bracket at 25.023 seconds. Herta has a trend of matching his finishes in doubleheader weekends. In his three doubleheader weekends, Herta had a pair of 12ths at Belle Isle last year, he had a pair of fifths at Road America last month and he had a pair of 19ths at Iowa.

Alexander Rossi was 0.1304 seconds off his Andretti Autosport teammate in 11th. Through seven races, Rossi has one top five finish and three top ten finishes. Those are tied for worst in each category since his rookie season in 2016. The last two seasons saw Rossi with a victory, four podium finishes and six top five finishes through the first seven races of 2018 and a victory, three podium finishes and five top five finishes through the first seven races of 2019.

Josef Newgarden was a surprising 12th in practice. Newgarden started 13th at Indianapolis and he has not started outside the top ten in consecutive races since the 2018 Belle Isle doubleheader. He is looking to extend his streak of consecutive top five finishes to four races. Every time Newgarden has had four consecutive top five finishes in a season, he has gone on to win the championship. In 2017, he won at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, finished second at Pocono and won at Gateway. Last year, he started the season with a victory at St. Petersburg, second at Austin, fourth at Barber and second at Long Beach. Later that season, he won Texas, finished third at Road America, fourth at Toronto and first at Iowa.

Oliver Askew was 13th in practice, 0.3854 seconds off his Arrow McLaren SP teammate. Askew's accident at Indianapolis dropped him from 12th in the championship to 16th. He had finished in the top ten of the first three oval races of 2020 with an average finish of sixth. He has led laps in the last two races.

Tony Kanaan slotted into 14th in the #14 Big Machine Vodka Chevrolet. At the end of the Gateway weekend, Tony Kanaan could have 383 starts, good enough for second all-time, 24 behind Mario Andretti's all-time record. He currently ranks tied for 27th on victories with Ralph Mulford and Danny Sullivan on 17, tied 20th on pole positions with Juan Pablo Montoya on 15, 11th in laps led with 4,071, tied for 11th in podium finishes with Will Power on 78 and eighth all-time in top five finishes with 133.

Felix Rosenqvist was the final driver within a half-second of O'Ward in 15th. After winning at Road America, Rosenqvist jumped from 18th to eighth in the championship. Despite having an average finish of 13.667 over the last three races with his best finish being 12th, Rosenqvist has only dropped to tenth in the championship. He has started in the top ten of six races this season, but his best starting position is only seventh.

Zach Veach is 16th in the championship and Veach was 16th in practice. Since starting fifth and finishing fourth in the Texas season opener, Veach's average starting position is 20th and his average finishing position is 17.333. He has not started better than 17th in the last six races. Veach did lead 14 laps last week in the Indianapolis 500, the most laps he has led in a single race. His first career laps led came at Gateway in 2018 when he led two laps. 

Marco Andretti was 17th in practice. Andretti has finished 14th, 14th and tenth in his three Gateway starts. Andretti has not had a top five finish in the last 24 races. Andretti has finished on the lead lap in his last two starts after opening 2020 with three lapped finished and two retirements.

Simon Pagenaud was the slowest Penske driver in 18th. Pagenaud has started outside the top twenty in the last four races and he has started outside the top fifteen in six consecutive races. Pagenaud's victory from 23rd in the first Iowa race tied Scott Dixon's first career victory at Nazareth for the ninth worst starting position for a race winner in IndyCar history.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was 19th in practice, odd considering Hunter-Reay has the second best average starting position this year at 6.3, behind only Josef Newgarden. Hunter-Reay has started in the top five in five of seven races and in the other two races he started 12th. Hunter-Reay's average finish is 13.6, 11th best of the full-time drivers.

Ed Carpenter put the #20 Air Force Chevrolet 20th in practice. Carpenter was fifth in the season opener at Texas. Carpenter has not had multiple top five finishes in a season since 2014. He has finished outside the top twenty in his last two starts. The last time he had three consecutive finishes outside the top twenty was 2015 when he had finishes of 30th at Indianapolis and a pair of 22nd-place finishes at Texas and Fontana. 

Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal were 21st and 22nd. Kimball has not had a top five finish on an oval since fifth at Indianapolis in 2016. Kimball has not qualified in the top ten once this season. He has not started in the top ten on an oval since he started third at Pocono in 2017. Rahal has finished third in his last two starts. This is the sixth time he has had consecutive podium finishes in his IndyCar career. Rahal has never had three consecutive podium finishes in his career. The last time he had three consecutive top five finishes was in 2017 when he swept the Belle Isle doubleheader and finished fourth at Texas.

Santino Ferrucci had a mechanical issue limit him to 40 laps of practice. Ferrucci was still only 1.0918 seconds off O'Ward's top time despite the mechanical problem. Ferrucci led a race-high 97 laps last year at Gateway on his way to finishing fourth. Last week, Ferrucci led one lap at Indianapolis. It was the fourth race he has led in his IndyCar career. 

Qualifying will take place at noon ET. Like Iowa, this qualifying format will see each car run two laps. The first lap will set the grid for race one later this afternoon. The second lap will set the grid for Sunday's race.

NBCSN's coverage of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Race 1 begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:45 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 200 laps.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Best of the Month: August 2020

This August saw an Indianapolis 500, not one but two Formula One races from Silverstone, NASCAR running the Daytona road course, Spa-Francorchamps being used every weekend of the month, a rainstorm at Road America, Formula E finish its 2019-20 season, horrendous accidents at the Red Bull Ring and the closeted finish in DTM history. 

We still have a weekend to go, but it will be a busy weekend and we have seen enough to recap the month while also going over previously undiscussed topics. 

Where Does Takuma Sato Rank Among Japanese Drivers?
I was going to ask on Twitter immediately after Sato won his second Indianapolis 500 whether he was the greatest Japanese driver of all-time. With the words typed out, I paused, and went to the backspace button, clearing out the box and leaving the question unasked. 

Knee-jerk reactions come with these significant events, regardless of the form of motorsports, regardless of the sport really. The problem is we do not let these moments breathe. We are always looking to rank, review, place, scrutinize and canonize the second something is over, as if it has to be done. It doesn't ever have to be done. 

Fandom and dissecting analysis are luxury items, afforded us by free-time and disposable income. Because we are not working 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, we are able to waste our time on such debates that have no meaning to life and do not matter at all. 

Japan is a lot like America in it has a strong domestic motorsports scene, and while Sato's success in the United States, accentuated with two Indianapolis 500 victories, would appear to give him the top honor, I thought about Kazuyoshi Hoshino, a six-time champion of the series now known as Super Formula in Japan. Hoshino was also won the 1990 Suzuka 1000 and 1992 24 Hours of Daytona. 

To me, and likely many others in the United States, we would likely all assume Sato is the greatest Japanese driver of all-time. But what about in Japan? Would the Japanese contingent have a completely different answer, one that would not be known to the rest of the world? 

From what we have seen, Sato is beloved in Japan. We saw that when he returned in 2017 after his first Indianapolis 500 victory, and he also was competitive in Formula One, finishing third in the 2004 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Japan is a country that takes great pride in international success. Former Seattle Mariner right fielder Ichiro drew a considerable amount of interest from across the Pacific while being one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball. Japan's women's national team provided great inspiration, winning the 2011 FIFA Woman's World Cup in the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami four months prior. Sato is held with great honor, but he is not the only Japanese driver with significant international success.

Aguri Suzuki and Kamui Kobayashi are the other two Japanese drivers to stand on a Formula One podium, coincidentally both at Suzuka in 1990 and 2012 respectively. Satoru Nakajima did not get a podium finish in his Formula One career, but he was the first Japanese driver to score points in Formula One. He had a pair of fourth place finishes in his career and he won five Super Formula championships. 

Kazuki Nakajima, son of Satoru, had respectable results in Formula One and has since gone on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice. Nakajima has also won the World Endurance Drivers' Championship and two championships in Super Formula. 

Masanori Sekiya and Seiji Ara are the other two Japanese drivers to win at Le Mans.

Satoshi Motoyama won four Super Formula titles and three Super GT championships. Tsugio Matsuda has two championships in each Super Formula and Super GT. Masahiro Hasemi was a three-time Japanese touring car champion, an All-Japan Sports Prototype champion, and won the 24 Hours of Daytona with Hoshino in 1992. Kunimitsu Takahashi started out on two wheels, winning four grand prix across the 125cc and 250cc classes, including a victor in the Ulster Grand Prix before switching to four wheels. Takahasi won the All-Japan Sports Prototype Championship four times and he was a class winner in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Naoki Yamamoto might be the best Japanese driver in the world today with two Super GT championships, a Super Formula title and he drove for Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice at Suzuka last year. Yamamoto has been linked at a Formula One opportunity because of his ties with Honda. 

I am not sure where to fairly place Sato, but being one of only twenty drivers to win multiple Indianapolis 500s, to have a Formula One podium finish, to be responsible for Japan's best finish in the World Drivers' Championship (eighth on 34 points in 2004) and to be responsible for the first fastest lap in Formula E history (bet you forgot that), I think if Sato is not on top, he is in the top five. Fifth is floor for Sato.

Kody Swanson Attempts to Jump American Open-Wheel Racing's Canyon
While Sato was making history at 16th and Georgetown, two days prior at Indianapolis Raceway Park, five-time USAC Silver Crown champion Kody Swanson made his Indy Pro 2000 debut in the Freedom 90.

Starting second, Swanson held his position over the first third of the race, but pole-sitter Manuel Suliamán opened a good gap. As Suliamán caught traffic, Swanson reeled him in and on lap 41, Swanson took the lead and never looked back. It was a dominating second half for a man who was probably the most familiar with the 0.686-mile oval in Brownsburg, Indiana. Swanson won on debut and he won the next night in the Night Before the 500 sprint car race.

Swanson hopes to one day be considered for an Indianapolis 500 ride. Outside of Bryan Clauson, we have had a few USAC drivers attempt Road to Indy races. Chris Windom made one Freedom 100 start, which lasted all of a lap before a gnarly accident in turn four. Chad Boat made an Indy Lights start at Gateway three years ago. Boat ran 58 laps before being caught in an accident. 

Clauson sparked a lot of hope IndyCar was returning to its root to attract USAC's best drivers last decade. Under Randy Bernard's leadership, the USAC National Championship was going to get an Indy Lights ride for all the oval races. Clauson won the prize and had respectable results in Indy Lights. When Clauson won the USAC National Championship for a second consecutive year, instead of having it be another five Indy Lights races, he got a shot at the Indianapolis 500. Clauson was respectable in practice and was likely going to qualify on the fourth row before he spun on his qualifying lap. He returned the next day and put the backup car in the field, but the confidence was gone, and his "500" debut lasted 46 laps.

Clauson would return for two more Indianapolis 500 starts and he showed improvements each year. However, Clauson's IndyCar experience remained exclusive to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. No greater oval opportunity came up and he was never considered as a possible full-time driver. 

I am glad Swanson gave it a go in Indy Pro 2000 and I am not surprised he won the race. I am willing to accept that USAC is not where the next IndyCar championship will come from, but I believe USAC is a place where four or five competitive Indianapolis 500 starters are making their living. 

The current issue is deciding whether or not it is worth it for a USAC driver. Indy Pro 2000 has two oval races. Indy Lights has at most three oval races a season. Is it really worth it for a guy who will run around 100 races between Silver Crown, sprints and midgets to take out the time to run a handful of higher downforce, lower formula, single-seater races? Swanson is making a living doing what he is doing. Even if he gets an Indianapolis 500 start, it might not pay more than a great night at IRP, Gas City or a handful of other dirt tracks across the country. 

Heck, the BC39, which has been held on the dirt track inside of Indianapolis Motor Speedway likely pays more to win at $15,000 than Swanson would get from his cut to start the Indianapolis 500. Let that sink in for a second. 

I wanted Clauson to get a shot outside of Indianapolis. I wanted to see him get a chance at Iowa in an IndyCar and that never happened. I would love it if Kody Swanson, Justin Grant, Zeb Wise and Windom found a way to tie IndyCar into their already busy schedules. I would love USAC guys to dabble in IndyCar oval races throughout the year. The only problem is it likely costs $2-3 million to run all the IndyCar oval races. Is $2 million really worth five or six races when you are a likely only going to make a fraction of that back on track? No, and that is why this will likely remain a canyon USAC's best will be unable to clear. A few may get a shot at the Indianapolis 500, but any greater participation is not going to happen. 

I wish Swanson the best and I hope we see more of him, hopefully he is at the Freedom 100 and the other Indy Lights oval races in 2021 and perhaps come 2022 he will be in the field of 33 on Memorial Day weekend.

Choose Your Series
As much as I did not like NASCAR limiting each driver to one series for its Daytona road course weekend, mostly because NASCAR didn't want any driver getting extra track time, it opened the door for different names to enter these races. 

Alex Tagliani got an additional Truck start. Mike Skeen was back in a Truck. Earl Bamber made his debut in the Grand National Series. Andy Lally had another great run in a mid-level car. Jade Buford and Scott Heckert were back and ran respectably. Kaz Grala made his Cup debut, albeit because of other circumstances, but if drivers were allowed to run multiple series A.J. Allmendinger would have substituted for Austin Dillon. James Davison got another start in a Cup car. 

I will admit, I was little underwhelmed not seeing more road course drivers come out. I would have loved Jack Hawksworth to get another chance in a Gibbs car in the Grand National Series. I am disappointed Jordan Taylor may have been told he could not run a Cup race. I think it is hard to find a NASCAR Cup ride and find one that will be competitive. Rick Ware Racing is always willing to accept a paycheck, but you are getting a car that will be three-seconds off the pace. 

Over the Daytona weekend, I was lamenting the end of the road course ringer, mostly in the Cup series because of the playoff rules. Unlike 15 years ago when a team would remove Ken Schrader, David Stremme, Sterling Marlin and Tony Raines for a driver with a lot more road course experience and could take a mid-pack car and put it in the top ten, possibly even the top five, the current format forces a driver to start every race. 

As much as JTG Daugherty Racing would get a better running with a driver other than Ryan Preece in its car for a road course or Germain Racing with a driver other than Tyler Dilon or GoFas Racing benching Corey LaJoie, the teams have to run these drivers, why? Because if any of them fall into a victory in the Daytona regular season finale they only make the playoffs if they start every race. None of them would get a waiver because they skipped a road course race due to lack of ability. 

I was thinking of the generation of road course ringers we lost. We have some of them, because of the Grand National Series having four or five road course races a year and many of those teams rotate drivers. That allows Lally to be a regular, Bamber to get an opportunity and Davison and Hawksworth to get a shot. In the Cup Series, the road course ringer died with the generation of Ron Fellows, Scott Pruett and Boris Said. 

If the Cup series was still the Cup series of 20 years ago and one of these teams normally fighting for 23rd would like to be in the top ten for a race, we would see Lally, Hawksworth and Davison all getting greater opportunities. I think Colin Braun and Patrick Long would be in the conversation for opportunities. I think Jordan Taylor would have gotten his shot in a Cup car. I think Jeroen Bleekemolen would have gotten a crack at it. 

NASCAR already limits when and where championship-ineligible drivers can run in lower series. The Triple Truck Challenge races bar Cup driver for three, as does the Dash 4 Cash races in the Grand National Series for four races. I wouldn't mind if NASCAR enforced the one series rule for Watkins Glen and it opened the door for more road course ringers to get an opportunity, even if it would mostly be in NASCAR's second division. If NASCAR did it right, it would make sure Watkins Glen fell on an IMSA off weekend and perhaps Jordan Taylor would be allowed to race. All Taylor has been doing in 2020 is adding victories to his résumé. 

End With a Festival
The Formula E season concluded with six races over nine days from Berlin's Tempelhof Airport. Three pairs of doubleheaders were run, the first on a Wednesday and Thursday going in the reverse configuration of the track. The Saturday and Sunday races were run on the track as it has typically been run. The final two races on the following Wednesday and Thursday were held on the regular layout but with an extension in the final sector. 

I quite enjoyed it, from the evening races to races on Wednesday and Thursday and the different layouts. It felt like Formula E was finishing its season with a festival of motorsports. Each day was something different and there were some really good races. Of course, there were no spectators, making the festival comparison quite moot. 

I thought it was a great way to end this championship. Formula E did not have many other options and Berlin was the place most suited to end a championship. No city center was going to close down to host an automobile race during a pandemic. Berlin is a vacant airport transitioning into a green space and park. The races could be held and not be impede daily life for the citizens of Berlin. 

While different from your typically race weekend, the Berlin festival might only be able to exist during this pandemic. 

This was done out of necessity. Formula E had to complete a season, run a sufficient number of races to meet requirements for televisions, sponsors, etc., and this happened knowing Formula E's dilemma of being a street course-based series. It also would help the teams if it could be done in one place and not split over two or three countries where shipping and travel restrictions would have come into play. 

We ended up with a six-race, nine-day schedule. Sanity tells you that could not be replicated under normal circumstances, but I do think a five-day, Wednesday through Sunday race weekend could be possible, especially if it encompassed a holiday. 

It could be a big event, taking over a city or closely located racetrack and be a hub for five days. You could have concerts every night with a different act. If it was an oval with a road course, à la Indianapolis, you could have three days on the road course with three different configurations with two days on the oval. If it was Watkins Glen or Circuit of the Americas, you could run different configurations and have different types of races, sprints and an endurance event. Internationally, I think Silverstone would be a venue for such an event. Perhaps the Nürburgring or Circuit Paul Ricard could be an option.

Formula E might need this festival format in 2021, because I do not see how the series will be able to go to Santiago, Mexico City, Riyadh and Sanya, China in the first three months of 2021. It might need to head to Jerez or Valencia for an early makeup round in March or April to make up four or five races. Down the road though, the conclusion to the 2019-20 season in Berlin might be just one of the many quirks we reminisce upon when reflecting how we lived through a pandemic.

Who Had the Best Month?
Takuma Sato. Any time you can win the Indianapolis 500, it has been a good month.

Austin Cindric with finishes of first, first, second and third and Cindric has nine consecutive top five finishes since the start of July. 

KTM, which picked up its first MotoGP victories at Brno with Brad Binder and the Styrian Grand Prix with Miguel Oliveira.

António Félix da Costa, who locked up the Formula E title in convincing fashion and early in Berlin. We had two dead rubbers because of da Costa's results.

Who is Glad to See September?
Sebastien Vettel. The answer is always going to be Vettel until we get to 2021.

All of Andretti Autosport, although it still has Gateway to turn things around. The team does not have a victory and it had a disappointing Indianapolis 500 with Alexander Rossi being the only contender for the race victory.

Marc Márquez, who frankly should be looking to 2021 at this point because if he is going to be out for another two or three months, why return for the final two or three races? Because that is all he will get if he chooses to return. Granted, he might want to give Portimão a go and I would not blame him, but there will be no world title for Márquez this year.

September Preview
When looking at the remaining Formula One schedule, it is a bit of an unknown across the board. 

I will admit this isn't just a September preview but almost the rest of the Formula One calendar and September is just the start of it. 

We begin in Monza, no worries, we all know Monza. We know how Monza races. We know how the tires degrade and we know who is quick and who is going to struggle (Haas). 

A week later is Mugello, which on paper will be a boring race. We aren't sure of that, but it seems to be the consensus. Mugello has the long front straightaway, that is really the only passing zone because of the tight and curvy nature of the circuit. It is wonderful for motorcycles. Formula One might not quite fit. The only other hope is cars can make a run out of the right-hander turn three to the left-hander turn four. Outside of that, I am not sure where else a pass could take place. 

Then we get Sochi because Russian money and lack of covid-19 restrictions on September 27.

September doesn't look all that different, but getting into October we have Nürburgring, Portimão and Imola. Two of the three tracks Formula One has been to before, but not with this generation of car. Nürburgring missed the turbo-hybrid era by a year. Imola last held a race in 2006. Kimi Räikkönen is the only driver on the grid with Formula One experience at Imola. Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Romain Grosjean, Sergio Pérez, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Räikkönen have Nürburgring experience. A lot of the grid will be new to the Nürburgring and throw in that the race is in October and the weather could make for an interesting weekend. 

Then there is Portimão, a gem hidden in the rocky landscape of Algarve in southern Portugal. I was convinced the track would get a Formula One race when it first opened in 2008. Little did I know it would take 12 years and a pandemic to make it happen. 

I don't like to set the bar high, but I will for Portimão. You have the tabletop front straightaway, where you start ascending out of the final corner, reach the plateau and then descend into turn one! The next key section will be downhill into the turn five hairpin. Out of the hairpin, the track heads up hill and turn six might be taken flat, which could allow for some chances into turn seven if one dares. The track flows over the next three corners, before a big descend out of turn ten, through turn 11 and then starts to climb again after turn 12. Turn 13 brings the cars back to toward the main straightaway and the long, sweeping, downhill turn 14 will allow cars to build speed before climbing up to the start/finish line. 

After Portugal is Imola, and Imola is tough to judge because it is tight and it doesn't have the same high speeds with the chicanes, but with the final left-right corners gone and a long straightaway from Rivazza to Tamburello, we could see some plenty of passing. I also think the downhill section from the Variante Alta to Rivazza could set up some moves. 

After that, we head to Istanbul for the first time since 2011, a track only Vettel, Hamilton, Pérez and Räikkönen have Formula One experience at. I know Istanbul was beloved for turn eight and the quadruple apex, but I felt it was a few great corners with poor corners in-between. Turns one and two, the descending left-hander into the right sweeping bend is exciting but it is immediately wasted with a series of four tight corners that exists just to be corners. The run from the final apex in turn eight to turn nine is a little too short but the downhill into the kink that is turn ten and hard breaking turn 11 is hair rising. The only problem is it is all wasted because immediate after turn 11 is a tight left, right, left back on the main straightaway. After all that, we are left with a whimper on our way to start the next lap. Istanbul has the pieces to be a great circuit, but it also has the pieces of a terrible circuit.

The final three weekends will be a Bahrain doubleheader, with the second race on the perimeter circuit, and Abu Dhabi ends the season on December 13. We can get to these races when we get closer to that time.

We likely will never see a world championship like this one again. There is a chance this will be the final time and only time we see a lot of these circuits. It is something to appreciate.

Other events of note in September:
The 24 Hours of Le Mans on September 19-20.
NASCAR starts its playoffs at Darlington and it has races at Richmond and Bristol. 
IndyCar might be at Mid-Ohio... or somewhere else... or nowhere at all... we will keep you posted.
Road Atlanta stands in for the 6 Hours of the Glen. 
World Rally returns with a round in Estonia.
A week after Le Mans is the 24 Hours Nürburgring.
MotoGP has two rounds at Misano and one at Barcelona.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Track Walk: Gateway 2020

IndyCar will run two in the shadow of the Arch

The eighth and ninth rounds of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season will be at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park. The defending Gateway winner Takuma Sato returns to the track as a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. This is the fourth consecutive season Sato has won a race. He is looking to become the first Indianapolis 500 winner to win the race immediate after since Juan Pablo Montoya won at Milwaukee the week after winning the 2000 Indianapolis 500. With Gateway being a doubleheader, each race will be 200 laps, 48 laps shorter than a regular Gateway race. This is the first time the race following the Indianapolis 500 is an oval since 2011, when Texas hosted its famous Twin 275s.

Time: On Saturday August 29, coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:45 p.m. ET. On Sunday August 30, coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 3:45 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kelli Stavast and Dillon Welch will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule 
Practice: 4:30 p.m. ET (90 minutes)*
Qualifying: 12:00 p.m. ET*
Race: 3:45 p.m. ET (200 laps)
Race: 3:45 p.m. ET (200 laps)

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

Takuma Sato Appreciation
As mentioned above, Sato has now won two Indianapolis 500s and he returns to Gateway as the defending winner of this race. 

This is Sato's 11th season in IndyCar and his career even prior to arriving to the series in 2010 was known for blistering pace and suspect control. That was the case in Formula One, where Sato entered in 2002 with Jordan, fresh off a British Formula Three championship against the likes of Anthony Davidson, James Courtney, Gianmaria Bruni, Andy Priaulx, André Lotterer, Ryan Dalziel and Alex Gurney. Sato had a handful of accident with Jordan but capped off that season with a fifth-place finish in the season finale at Suzuka. 

Sato was BAR-Honda's test driver for 2003, but he got a shot to race at the Suzuka finale and finished sixth. The 2004 season was the height of Sato's Formula One career. He was third in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis behind the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. He scored points in nine of 18 races and was eighth in the championship.

After a disastrous 2005 season with BAR-Honda and two-plus difficult season with Super Aguri, which did see Sato famously finish sixth in the Canadian Grand Prix, including a pass on the McLaren of Fernando Alonso, Sato came to IndyCar as a possibly quick but erratic driver. 

It took him years to shake that reputation. A lot of it was earned. He had nine retirements in his rookie season in 2010. He had eight in 2012 and ten in 2013. The good was coming with the bad. In 2011, Sato had three top five finishes and two pole positions. In 2012, along with his famous spin attempting to win the Indianapolis 500, he was third in São Paulo and second in Edmonton. He joined A.J. Foyt Racing in 2013, won at Long Beach and was second in São Paulo, but he had seven consecutive finishes of 20th or worse and he ended the season with his best finish being 14th in the final ten races.

For the next three seasons, Sato's results yo-yoed. Two pole positions in 2014, but his average finish was 15.5 and he was 18th in the championship. He returned to the podium with a second at Belle Isle in 2015 and climbed to 14th in the championship, but he followed by dropping to 17th in the championship in 2016. 

Sato turned 40 ahead of the 2017 season, where he joined Andretti Autosport. Since then, he has won a race in four consecutive seasons with five victories and eight podium finishes. His last three seasons have been his three best years in terms of average finish and championship finish. He has had 13 retirements since the start of 2017 compared to 43 in his first seven seasons.

At 43 years, six month and 27 days old, Sato become the sixth oldest Indianapolis 500 winner. He joined Bobby Unser as the only drivers to win multiple Indianapolis 500s after the age of 40. He has led 78 laps in his Indianapolis 500 career, more than the likes of Alexander Rossi, Troy Ruttman, Gil de Ferran, Mark Donohue and Buddy Lazier. 

A third Indianapolis 500 is not out of the realm of possibility. There is no sign of Sato walking away from IndyCar anytime soon. He has found a good home at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. It took until the age of 40, but he has reined in his aggression and the results are better now than when in his 20s. A championship might be out of reach, however, Sato still holds the ability to pull in a few more race victories.

Where are We After Indianapolis?
Scott Dixon is running away with the championship. Dixon is on the verge of high stepping to the end zone because nobody is close to catching him. 

With a second-place finish at Indianapolis and a second place starting position, Dixon left Speedway, Indiana with 88 points and lost ground to only one man. His championship points total has skyrocketed to 335 points while defending IndyCar championship Josef Newgarden is 84 points behind after Newgarden could only muster a fifth-place finish. 

Dixon has three victories; two runner-up finishes and a fifth from seven races. Newgarden does head to Gateway with three consecutive top five finishes. 

Patricio O'Ward earned Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors with his sixth-place finish and O'Ward has jumped to third in the championship, but he is 117 points behind Dixon. O'Ward has two top five finishes and four top ten finishes this season. Graham Rahal is four points behind O'Ward. Rahal has finished third in the last two races and he has three podium finishes this season, his most since 2017. He has not had four podium finishes in a season in 2016. 

Simon Pagenaud dropped from second in the championship to fifth after finishing 22nd in the Indianapolis 500. While Pagenaud had three podium finishes, including a victory at Iowa, he has finished outside the top ten in three races this season. His 22nd-place finish at Indianapolis was his worst result since he was 24th at Long Beach in 2018. Pagenaud is 123 points behind Dixon. 

Takuma Sato's Indianapolis 500 victory has leapfrogged him to sixth in the championship, 128 points behind Dixon. Sato has five top ten finishes from the seven races, with a did not start at Texas and a 21st in the second Iowa race being the blemishes on his 2020 campaign. 

Colton Herta has five top ten finishes from seven races, including three top five finishes, and that leaves him seventh in the championship, 146 points back of Dixon. Santino Ferrucci matched his career-best finish with his fourth-place effort in the Indianapolis 500 and he is 154 points off the championship lead. Ferrucci has four top ten finishes in seven starts. Indianapolis was his first top five finishes of the season. 

Will Power has finished outside the top ten in five of seven races, but two runner-up finishes have Power ninth in the championship, 160 points behind Dixon. Felix Rosenqvist's victory at Road America is the only thing keeping him in the top ten in the championship. Rosenqvist trails his Ganassi teammate by 178 points. 

Despite finishing tenth at Indianapolis, Ryan Hunter-Reay is 11th in the championship on 149 points. Marcus Ericsson's string of five consecutive top ten finishes was snapped after his accident at Indianapolis and he dropped to 12th, two points behind Hunter-Reay. After starting the 2020 season with four consecutive finishes of 16th or worse, Jack Harvey has three consecutive top ten finishes from three oval races and Harvey sits 13th in the championship on 145 points. Alexander Rossi's accident in turn two at Indianapolis not only ended his hopes for a second Indianapolis 500 victory, it ended a streak of three consecutive top ten finishes. Rossi finds himself 14th in the championship, but 205 points behind Dixon.

Looking to Bounce Back
Regardless of how the rest of the 2020 schedule sorts out with the indefinitely postponed Mid-Ohio doubleheader, the Indianapolis 500 marked the halfway point of the season and if Mid-Ohio is not rescheduled there are only five races remaining. If Mid-Ohio finds a place on the calendar or those two races are made up elsewhere, there are still only seven races remaining and a handful of notable drivers are without a victory.

Will Power's season has been anything but rosy. As stated above, he has two runner-up finishes bloating what has otherwise been a frustrating summer for the 2014 champion. Power enters the final two oval races without a victory. He has at least one oval victory in each of the last four seasons and he has an oval victory in six of the last seven seasons. Power won at Gateway in 2018, but he has finished 20th and 22nd in his only other starts at the track.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is over two years removed from his most recent victory, but Hunter-Reay is over five years removed from his last oval victory. Since his last oval victory at Pocono, he has had 15 podium finishes, but only two have been on ovals. Of his 26 top five finishes since that victory, six have come on ovals. From 2011 to 2015, eight of Hunter-Reay's 12 victories were on ovals. He has yet to have a great day at Gateway with finishes of 15th, 20th and eighth. In the DW12-era, Hunter-Reay has the second most oval victories with seven, behind only Power, who has eight victories.

Marcus Ericsson suffered his first retirement of 2020 at Indianapolis and his 32nd-place finish is the worst finish of his IndyCar career. Ericsson dropped from eighth in the championship to 12th after the result. Last year, he ended the 2019 season with seven consecutive finishes outside the top ten. 

Alexander Rossi picked up the worst finish of his Indianapolis 500 career and his IndyCar career. Rossi has twice reset his worst-career finish and he did it both times at Indianapolis. He was 25th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Rossi led his first laps of 2020 at Indianapolis and his first laps since his Road America victory in 2019. After finishes of sixth and second in his first two Gateway starts. He was 13th last year after mismanaged pit strategy. 

Conor Daly's accident at Indianapolis was the sixth time Daly has finished outside the top twenty in the Indianapolis 500 in seven appearances. After winning pole position at Iowa in the first race, he has finishes of 13th and 29th. Gateway is the site of Daly's most recent top five finish and he has finishes of fifth and sixth in his two Gateway starts. 

Marco Andretti had a pick-me-up with his Indianapolis 500 pole position, but Andretti faded in the race, not leading a lap and settling with a 13th place finish. Andretti is the first pole-sitter to fail to lead a lap since Scott Sharp in 2001, when Sharp spun in turn one and lap one. Thirteenth is still Andretti's second-best finish of 2020 and he has three finishes of 22nd this year. 

Tony Kanaan could be making his final IndyCar starts this weekend. Though Kanaan has left the door open to returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to run one more Indianapolis 500 in front of spectators, Gateway was always set up to be the final races of his 2020 farewell tour. Last year, he ended up third at Gateway, his first podium finish since Texas 2017. This year's Indianapolis 500 was not his best day, ending up 19th the first car one-lap down.

Ed Carpenter opened 2020 with a fifth-place finish at Texas, but Carpenter has finished 15th, 23rd and 26th in the last three races. His Indianapolis 500 never really got started. Contact with Zach Veach in the South chute on lap one bent Carpenter's suspension and led to lengthy repairs before returning to the race. Last year, Carpenter made a late charge on Takuma Sato for the victory at Gateway, falling 0.040 seconds short of his first victory since 2014.

Rookies Battle for Footing
After a battering Indianapolis 500, the three IndyCar rookie of the year candidates are all with six points of one another entering the Gateway doubleheader. 

Álex Palou's Indianapolis 500 ended after he made contact with the wall exiting turn one while running in the top ten on lap 122. Palou remained the top rookie in the championship on 127 points after Indianapolis. He did pick up three extra points for qualifying seventh for Indianapolis. The Spaniard has shown respectable pace on ovals, but he has yet to score a top ten finish in the first four oval races. His best finish was 11th in the first Iowa race. 

Oliver Askew clobbered the inside wall off turn four when he spun to avoid Conor Daly's accident on lap 92. Askew had led four laps, albeit through pit cycles, but Askew was one of the many Chevrolets trying to run an alternate strategy to get to the front. Prior to Indianapolis, Askew had finished in the top ten of every oval race this season. He is now one points behind Palou in the rookie of the year battle. Askew won at Gateway last year in Indy Lights, from pole position, and he picked up fastest lap to boot.

Rinus VeeKay was the best rookie qualifier in fourth, but a penalty for hitting a crew member quickly dropped VeeKay out of contention. He was able to continue in the race and ended up a lap down, finishing 20th. VeeKay is six points behind Palou. He has finished outside the top ten in the last five races. VeeKay won at Gateway in Pro Mazda two years and he was runner-up at Indy Lights last year.

Last year, two rookies finished in the top ten at Gateway with Santino Ferrucci in fourth and Colton Herta in ninth. The year prior, Zach Veach was fifth at Gateway as a rookie. 

Final Oval Races of 2020
With two oval races remaining, 108 points are left on the table, and seven drivers could end up as the top oval driver in 2020. 

Scott Dixon has scored 215 points from four the four oval races. Dixon's oval finishes have been first, second, fifth and second. He is 33 points clear of Josef Newgarden who, like Dixon, has finished in the top five of every oval race this season. Newgarden has finished third, fifth, first and fifth and he has two pole positions on ovals. 

The gap widens to 74 points between Dixon and Simon Pagenaud in third. Pagenaud had finishes of second, first and fourth in his first three oval races before his bad Indianapolis 500. Takuma Sato's victory leaps him one points behind Pagenaud. Sato picked up 108 points from the Indianapolis 500, meaning 76.59% of his oval points this year are from one race. Graham Rahal is two points behind his teammate. Rahal has finished third in the last two races and he has never had three podium finishes on ovals in a single season. 

Patricio O'Ward is 89 points behind Dixon. O'Ward has not finished worse than 12th this season. The only time he has been to Gateway as in Indy Lights in 2018 when he finished third behind Ryan Norman and Colton Herta. 

The final drivers alive for top oval driver is Jack Harvey, 105 points behind Dixon. Harvey will be eliminated once Dixon starts the first race on Saturday. After finishing 16th, one lap down at Texas, he has an average finish of 7.667 in his last three oval starts. 

A Team Penske driver has been the de facto oval champion for six of the last seven seasons. The exception is Newgarden, who was the best oval driver in 2016 when with Ed Carpenter Racing. Dixon could become the first Honda driver to lead in oval points since engine competition returned in 2012. Dixon was the top oval driver in 2011. 

Road to Indy
Only one Road to Indy series joins IndyCar at Gateway and that will be Indy Pro 2000. 

Five-time USAC Silver Crown champion Kody Swanson stole the show at Indianapolis Raceway Park, winning on debut driving for Legacy Autosport. Swanson led the final 50 laps after starting second. He took the victory by 5.6772 seconds over Hunter McElrea. Swanson will be back this weekend in the #20 Legacy Autosport Tatuus.

Devlin DeFrancesco retook the championship lead with a fourth-place finish at Indianapolis Raceway Park and the Canadian has 136 points. The Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport driver is still looking for his first victory 2020. He had a runner-up finish at Road America and a second and third at Mid-Ohio. His worst finish this season was seventh. 

Sting Ray Robb is seven points behind the Canadian DeFrancesco after finishing sixth at IRP. Danial Frost is on 127 points after finishing fifth. Artem Petrov has finished eighth and ninth in the last two races, and Petrov has dropped to 18 points behind DeFrancesco. Braden Eves rounds out the top five, 21 points back. 

McElrea moved up to sixth in the championship on 104 points. He has finished second in the last two races. Manuel Sulaimán took a surprise pole position at IRP and Sulaimán led the first 40 laps but ended up dropping to third. The result lifted Sulaimán to seventh the championship on 103 points. 

It has been a difficult year for Parker Thompson. Thompson was tenth at IRP for the second consecutive year after he won that race in 2018. Thompson is on 89 points and eighth in the championship.

The Gateway Indy Pro 2000 winner has gone onto win the championship every year with Victor Franzoni doing it in 2017, Rinus VeeKay in 2018 and Kyle Kirkwood last year.

Robb has run all three Indy Pro 2000 races at Gateway. He has finishes of seventh, ninth and fifth. Frost scored a fourth-place finish in this race last year. Petrov made his Indy Pro 2000 debut last year at Gateway and finished seventh. 

The Indy Pro 2000 race will be at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday August 30th.

Fast Facts
Saturday's race will be the 12th IndyCar race on August 29 and first since Ryan Briscoe won at Chicagoland in 2009. 

Sunday's race will be the 15th IndyCar race on August 30 and first since Scott Dixon won at Sonoma in 2015. That victory gave Dixon the 2015 championship on tiebreaker over Juan Pablo Montoya. Sunday's race will be six years to the day of Tony Kanaan's most recent victory at Fontana. 

Mario Andretti won on August 30, 1987 at Road America. Michael Andretti won on August 30, 1992 at Vancouver. 

There have been ten different winners in the ten IndyCar races at Gateway. 

Team Penske has won five of ten Gateway races. Chip Ganassi Racing has two victories. Newman/Haas Racing, Galles Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing all have one victory. 

Chevrolet has three Gateway victories. Honda and Toyota have each won at the track twice. Mercedes-Benz, Ford-Cosworth and Oldsmobile each won at the track once. 

Three of the previous ten Gateway races have been the 250-mile distance. Those were the Indy Racing League events from 2001 to 2003. The CART races from 1997 to 2000 were 300 miles. The three races from 2017 to 2019 were 310 miles, just shy of 500 kilometers.

Team Penske has won at all three distances. 

The Gateway winner has gone on to win the championship twice, Alex Zanardi in 1998 and Josef Newgarden in 2017.

The average starting position for a Gateway winner is 4.6 with a median of third. 

The pole-sitter has won three Gateway races, Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000, Gil de Ferran in 2002 and Hélio Castroneves in 2003.

The worst starting position for a Gateway winner was 11th in 1998 with Alex Zanardi and 1999 with Michael Andretti. 

The only other time a Gateway winner started outside the top five was in 2001 when Al Unser, Jr. won from eighth.

The average number of lead changes in a Gateway race is nine with a median of ten. 

The fewest lead changes was three in 1998 and the most was 13 last year.

The average number of cautions in a Gateway race is 4.7 with a median of 4.5 The average number of caution laps are 43.2 with a median of 39.

The most cautions were eight in 1997 and 1999. The fewest cautions was one in 2000.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is one victory away from becoming the third driver to reach the 50-victory milestone in IndyCar history.

If Scott Dixon starts both races this weekend, Dixon will surpass Al Unser, Jr. for fifth most starts in IndyCar history. Dixon will have made 330 starts if he takes the green flag in both races.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 87 laps to become the fifth driver with 6,000 laps in an IndyCar career. 

Scott Dixon needs to lead 125 laps to surpass Hélio Castroneves for fourth all-time in laps led.

Will Power needs to lead 102 laps to surpass Paul Tracy for ninth all-time in laps led.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 185 laps to surpass Paul Tracy for ninth all-time in laps led.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 104 laps to become the 23rd driver to lead 2,500 laps in an IndyCar career.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 199 laps to become the 29th driver to lead 1,500 laps in an IndyCar career.

Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon split the weekend. There will be five different drivers that stand on the podium between the two races. Satnino Ferrucci gets a top five finish in one race and finishes outside the top ten in the other. Conor Daly gets at least one top ten finishes. Multiple Andretti Autosport drivers get a top five finish this weekend. Felix Rosenqvist gets his second top ten finish of the weekend. Will Power will not be angry after both races. At least two of the rookies score a top ten this weekend. There will not be a caution that catches out the leaders and moves drivers outside the top ten to the front of the field in the closing laps. The biggest difference between starting position between the two races will be 13 positions. There will not be any rain. Sleeper: Santino Ferrucci.