Friday, October 30, 2020

Best of the Month: October 2020

We are 5/6th of the way through 2020. Daylight Savings had ended in Europe. It is nearing its end in the United States. This long year is almost over and it will, hopefully, feel like a relief when it ends. 

The notable championship that ended in October is IndyCar and we are going IndyCar heavy to put a bow on that championship.

IndyCar Tidbits
The IndyCar season is behind us and with a few days to decompress and cipher over the notes and nuggets. How did the 2020 season play out? What was unusual? What was standard? What are a few different ways to look at this unprecedented season?

Season Length

At 141 days, this is the fourth-shortest season in IndyCar history since 1946, but there is a caveat to the three seasons shorter than this one. 

The shortest? The inaugural Indy Racing League season at 120 days between its season opener at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando on January 27, 1996 to that year's Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 1996. However, that was a three-race, basically soft-launch season. 

The next shortest was the 1946 season, which historically is a mess because initially the American Automobile Association allowed certain "big car" (now known as sprint car) races to count toward the championship due to car count concerns after World War II. There were six Championship Car races and 71 "big car" races that counted toward the championship. 

However, car count was not a problem, and while the 71 "big car" races initially were included in the record book, the current IndyCar record book only counts the six Championship Car races. The first Championship Car race was the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, then there were Langhorne, Lakewood, Indiana State Fairgrounds, Milwaukee and the season ended at Good Time Park in Goshen Park, New York on October 6, a span of 129 days.

The other shorter season was the 1979 USAC season, which occurred simultaneously with the USAC/CART split and the original USAC season finale at Ontario Motor Speedway jumped ship midseason to become a CART event. The USAC season started March 25 at Ontario and ended on August 12 at Milwaukee, 140 days in length, one shorter than the 2020 season.

The four shortest seasons in IndyCar history are the start of a split, a debatable interpretation of the first season after the second world war, the start of another split and during a global pandemic. 
If you are wondering what the shortest season is without a reason it is not that long ago... it is 2014, which was 153 days long. The next shortest? That would be 2015, which lasted 154 days.

Championship Comparison

Scott Dixon took home his sixth championship and did it with 537 out of a possible 814 points, 65.97% of the maximum points total.

Dixon's point percentages from his other five championships:

2003: 60.9375%
2008: 71.698%
2013: 55.057%
2015: 57.736%
2018: 66.0818%

Dixon's winning percentage of 28.571% was the highest for a championship since Dario Franchitti's 29.411% in 2009. Dixon was the third champion in the last four seasons to finish on the podium in at least half the races. Dixon was in the top ten of 92.285% of the races, the highest since Franchitti's 2007 championship where he was in the top ten for 94.117% of the races. 

This was the second consecutive season the winner of the season opener won the championship. The last time that happen was 2005 and 2006 when Sébastien Bourdais did it both years in Champ Car. 

One thing to note for 2021: The last time the season opener winner went on to win the championship in three consecutive years was 2001-2003 in the IRL with Sam Hornish, Jr. in the first two years and Dixon in 2003.

Dixon won four races this season and the last 25 champions across the IRL, CART/Champ Car and unified IndyCar have all had at least three victories. The last champion with fewer than three victories was Gil de Ferran in 2001.

Both Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden completed all 1,900 laps. Prior to the season, only two drivers had completed every lap in a season, Tony Kanaan in 2004 and Simon Pagenaud in 2017. Patricio O'Ward completed 1,897 of 1,900 laps, 99.842% of the laps and that is good for 11th-best all-time. 

Dixon won this championship at 40 years, three months and three days old, the first champion over 40 since Nigel Mansell in 1993. Only one driver has multiple titles at the age of 40: A.J. Foyt, who won his sixth championship at 40 in 1975 and then won his seventh title at 44 in 1979.

An Admirable Defense

Josef Newgarden fell short of becoming a back-to-back champion and a three-time champion in four seasons. 

Should I present the good or rub some salt in the wound? Let's get the pain out of the way. 

The Indianapolis 500 was the only double points race this year. It also offered additional points for qualifying in the top nine, as it has for over the last decade. If Indianapolis had been like the other 13 races and presented a maximum of 54 points for a victory, Newgarden's victory at St. Petersburg would have given him the championship with 491 points to Scott Dixon's 490 points for finishing third. 

If St. Petersburg was double points, Dixon would have been champion by a point over Newgarden despite Newgarden's victory and Dixon finishing third. 

Onto the good...

Newgarden led 455 laps, his third consecutive season leading the most laps. He is the first driver to accomplish that since Alex Zanardi from 1996 to 1998. It was the fourth time Newgarden has led the most laps in a season. The only drivers to lead more seasons in laps are Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Bobby Unser, who all led six seasons, and Michael Andretti and Rodger Ward each led five seasons in laps led. Newgarden and Dixon are tied with four seasons with the most laps led.

Newgarden won four races, the most for a defending champion since Dario Franchitti won four in 2011 in what was Franchitti's second consecutive successful title defense. The last defending champion to win at least four races and not successfully defend a title was Buddy Lazier in 2001.

Newgarden is now tied with Ryan Hunter-Reay for most victories among active American drivers on 18. He and Hunter-Reay are now each two victories away from becoming the 22nd driver with at least 20 IndyCar victories. 

Newgarden's victory at St. Petersburg stole the road/street course title away from Colton Herta. Herta entered on 244 road/street course points, seven ahead of Will Power and 25 points ahead of Newgarden. Newgarden scored 31 more points than Herta and took the unofficial road/street course title with 270 points to Herta's 264 points. 

This was the eighth time in the last 11 seasons a Team Penske driver has been the top road/street course driver. In the other three seasons, Dixon was the top road/street course driver.

Speaking of Americans

American drivers combined for five victories this season. Newgarden was responsible for four of those victories and Colton Herta got the other. 

Five victories are the lowest number for Americans drivers since three in 2016 and two different American winners is the fewest since 2014. However, the average number of victories in a season for Americans since 1992 (all series included, CART, IRL, etc.) is 4.658. 

There were five Americans in the top ten of the championship for the third consecutive season. Prior to this three-year period, the last time Americans had at least five of the top ten in the championship was the 2002 IRL season, which had six Americans.  

Eleven American drivers competed in at least 70% of the races in 2020. That is the most Americans since 11 did it in that 2002 IRL season. 

However, while Americans took five of the top ten, Americans also occupied 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st in the championship. That is a noticeable gap.

Rossi's Rub

It was a season from hell for Alexander Rossi, but how odd was it?

Rossi qualified second at St. Petersburg. It was the only time in 2020 Rossi was the top Andretti Autosport qualifier! 

Rossi had five podium finishes, including four-consecutive at one point. The last driver with at least five podium finishes and no victories was Hélio Castroneves in 2015. The only other drivers to do that in the last 15 years was Vitor Meira, who had six podium finishes and no victories in 2006 and A.J. Allmendinger with five podiums and no victories in 2005.

Some good news for Rossi? 

The last driver to win the championship after a winless season was Simon Pagenaud in 2016. Other recent examples include Dario Franchitti in 2009, but Franchitti did not contest a points-paying race in 2008, so not quite an apt comparison. Then there is Scott Dixon, whose 2003 IRL championship came after a winless season in 2002 in CART, so not quite an apples-to-apples comparison either but then there is Sam Hornish, Jr. Hornish, Jr. went winless in 2000 and then took the IRL titles in 2001 and 2002.

Sato's Historic Company

Takuma Sato won his second Indianapolis 500 this season and Sato also finished seventh in the championship, his best championship finish, but it got me wondering... how many Indianapolis 500 winners never finished in the top five of the championship?  

Lee Wallard
Jim Clark
Graham Hill
Arie Luyendyk
Takuma Sato

That is the list since World War II. Wallard, Clark and Luyendyk were all sixth in the championship at least once. Hill was never classified for the championship due to his Formula One ties.

Power's Tough End

Will Power started on pole position at St. Petersburg and finished last. The last driver to start on pole position and finish last was... Will Power at Austin last year. The time before that... well, technically it is Will Power because he won pole position for the 2016 St. Petersburg race and then missed the race due to an inner ear condition. Power didn't start that race, nor was he classified with a finishing position, but he did get one point for winning pole position, the fewest points earned of the drivers that participated that weekend. 

The time before that was Iowa 2012 when Dario Franchitti lost his engine leaving pit lane for the warm-up laps. So again, a driver that did not start a race.

When was the next time a pole-sitter took a green flag and then was dead last? July 8, 2007. Hélio Castroneves had an accident at Watkins Glen. 

Kiwi on Top, Kiwi on the Bottom

Scott Dixon won the championship, but Scott McLaughlin made his IndyCar debut at St. Petersburg, and it did not go as planned for McLaughlin. McLaughlin ended up 22nd and scored eight points. Those eight points gave McLaughlin last in the 2020 championship, behind the likes of James Davison, Ben Hanley, Spencer Pigot, Fernando Alonso, J.R. Hildebrand and Sage Karam to name a few. 

New Zealander Scott Dixon was on top. New Zealander Scott McLaughlin was on the bottom.

When was the last time first and last in the championship came from the same country?

Well, it just happened in 2017 when Josef Newgarden took the championship and Buddy Lazier was last, but when was the last time it happened for a champion from another country?

That would be 2001, when Gil de Ferran won the title, but Luiz Garcia, Jr. did not score any points that season and shared last with Michael Krumm. It happened the year before that as well with de Ferrarn winning the title and Gualter Salles sharing last on zero points with Jason Bright (more on him in a moment).

Looking over all the IRL seasons, the only other times the champion and last were the same nationality are as follows:

2000 (Buddy Lazier first, Lyn St. James last)
1999 (Greg Ray first, Jason Leffler last)

Kind of surprising considering the IRL was a series meant for Americans. 

McLaughlin's Unthinkable Company

McLaughlin's debut had me thinking: How many Bathurst 1000 winners have started an IndyCar race? It is a short list:

Geoff Brabham, Jason Bright and McLaughlin. 

Brabham and Bright both won at Bathurst when there were two 1000-kilometer races at Mount Panorama. In 1997 and 1998, there were two races because of a split between the V8 Supercars organizers and the Australian Racing Drivers Club. Brabham won the traditional October race with his brother David Brabham after Paul Morris and Craig Baird were disqualified. Bright won the V8 Supercars 1000-kilometer race in November 1998 with Jim Richards.

Brabham had last started an IndyCar race in 1993. Bright would not make his IndyCar debut until 2000. That year, Bright ran in Indy Lights and finished sixth in the championship. He ended his year with a start with Della Penna Racing at Surfers Paradise. It was Bright's only IndyCar start and he retired after 44 laps.  The following year he returned to full-time competition in Australia. 

Pagenaud Fighting From Behind

Simon Pagenaud's average starting position was 15.928. The only year Pagenaud had a worse average starting position was 2011 when Pagenaud averaged a 21st-place on the grid, but his three starts were because he was a substitute for three different drivers. 

Once was for Ana Beatriz at Barber, who broke both her wrists at St. Petersburg, once for Justin Wilson and Pagenaud had less track time because Wilson got hurt in the middle of the race weekend, and once for Simona de Silvestro, who was not allowed into the country due to visa issues and Pagenaud was an 11th-hour replacement.

Hunter-Reay's Longevity

Ryan Hunter-Reay ends this season with 266 starts, 11th all-time and 15 starts behind Paul Tracy for tenth. Hunter-Reay is 34 starts away from becoming the tenth driver to make 300 IndyCar starts.

A Sophomore Slump

Felix Rosenqvist won a race and finished 11th in the championship. It was only the fourth time a Ganassi driver has won a race and not finished in the top ten of the championship. The others were Bruno Junqueira in 2001 (won at Road America and was 16th), Jeff Ward in 2002 (won at Texas and was 11th) and Scott Dixon in 2005 (won at Watkins Glen and was 13th).

A.J. Foyt's Reason for 2021 Optimism

A.J. Foyt Racing ended the 2020 season with Sébastien Bourdais in fourth and Charlie Kimball in eighth. It was the team's first double top ten finish since Gateway 2017 when Conor Daly was fourth and Carlos Muñoz was ninth. It was the team's first double top ten finish on a road/street course since the second Belle Isle race in 2015 when Takuma Sato was second, Jack Hawksworth was seventh and Sébastien Bourdais won that race.

When was the last time A.J. Foyt Racing had double top ten finishes in consecutive races? In the 2001 season finale, Eliseo Salazar was fourth and Greg Ray was ninth at Texas and in the 2002 season opener at Homestead, Salazar was fifth and Airton Daré was tenth. Remember that when we return to St. Petersburg next March. 

Not Bad Rookie

Rinus VeeKay went 12-2 in head-to-head battles against teammates, including going 8-0 against Conor Daly.

Another Way to Look at a Terrible Season

If every IndyCar race was single points, Zach Veach and Marco Andretti would have been level on 151 points and Veach sat out the final three races. 

Chilton's Silently Average, Disappointing, yet Encouraging Season

Max Chilton's top ten finish drought is up to 38 races. Chilton's last top ten finish was eighth at Watkins Glen in 2017. In those 38 races, he has only two retirements, Barber 2018 and Toronto 2018. After having only ten combined lead lap finishes in his previous two seasons, Chilton was on the lead lap for all nine of his starts in 2020, completing 800 of 800 laps. Chilton has never had more than nine lead lap finishes in a season.

Ganassi Leads, Penske Closes

The 2020 season started with four consecutive victories for Chip Ganassi Racing.

The 2020 season closed with three consecutive victories for Team Penske

Ganassi and Penske combined for 12 of 14 victories this season. 

Other than the pandemic, the delayed start of the season, the number of doubleheaders, Takuma Sato winning the Indianapolis 500 and Colton Herta taking a victory at Mid-Ohio, this season looks a lot like 2009. 

For a series heralded for its parity, the victories suggest otherwise. It should be noted 14 drivers stood on the podium this season from seven teams. Of the full-time teams, only A.J. Foyt Racing, Carlin and Meyer Shank Racing did not put a driver on the podium and Carlin won a pole position and MSR had Jack Harvey start on the front row twice, in the top five on five occasions and he started in the top ten in 11 of 14 races. 

Nineteen drivers had a top five finish and the only full-time team that did not get a top five finish was Carlin.

Is there parity in IndyCar? Faux parity? Is it close enough to distract people from reality? 

I don't know, but IndyCar will promote it either way and fools will continue to believe Ed Carpenter Racing is on the verge of a breakout, six-victory season with AMSP winning three races and Sébastien Bourdais getting a pair of victories with Foyt in 2021, though there is not a snowball's chance in hell any of that will happen. 

Cold Weather
Let's give a shout out to cold weather because we saw a few strong races because of cooler temperatures. 

We had not one, but two great Harvest Grand Prix races because of the cooler weather. Josef Newgarden might have had a 14.294-second victory, but it was tight throughout the order. It was a four-way battle for the final two podium spots between Alexander Rossi, Rinus VeeKay, Colton Herta and Felix Rosenqvist. There were battles up and down the top ten. 

In the second race, it was closer at the front. Will Power might have led every lap, but Herta and Rossi kept him honest. Scott Dixon had to make up a few positions with a broken floor. 

Over in Formula One, we had the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. Rain washed out the Friday, but we had Lewis Hamilton take the victory with Max Verstappen keeping Hamilton honest. Daniel Ricciardo got on the podium ahead of Sergio Pérez. Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Pierre Gasly had a fight for fifth. Nico Hülkenberg went from 20th to eighth. Romain Grosjean was ninth. Antonio Giovinazzi got a point.

Portimão was run in overcast conditions. Sainz, Jr. went from seventh to first in two laps. Kimi Räikkönen gained ten spots in one lap. The Portuguese Grand Prix would level out. Valtteri Bottas would take the lead from Sainz, Jr. on lap seven. Hamilton would be leading by lap 20. Hamilton won from Bottas and Verstappen. Sainz, Jr. ended up sixth but Gasly drove up to fifth. Sebastian Vettel drove into the points. Räikkönen missed out on his first points of the season, but it was still an interesting outing. 

November Preview
The NASCAR season will end. All that remains is Martinsville and Phoenix.

Joey Logano will have a shot at the Cup championship. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch are all looking to take the final two championship-eligible spots for the finale. 

In the lower two divisions, Chase Briscoe has dominated the Grand National Series and he does not know who will join him in that final. Austin Cindric has had a strong year. Justin Allgaier has won his share of races. Justin Haley won all the plate races but may need to win on a few short tracks if he wants to take the championship. Brandon Jones is hanging in there. Ross Chastain has yet to win a race. Noah Gragson likely has to win at Martinsville to be alive for Phoenix. Ryan Sieg is just happy to be there. 

In the Truck Series, Brett Moffitt and Sheldon Creed have punched tickets to the Phoenix finale. Matt Crafton could make it back and look to successfully defending his championship. Zane Smith and Austin Hill both have won multiple races this season and are not locked into the finale. Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Tyler Ankrum all have to win at Martinsville to make the finale. 

IMSA's season is coming to an end and it has two races left: Laguna Seca and the 12 Hours of Sebring. 

The drivers currently leading the Daytona Prototype international championship standings are both out of a ride in 2021. Renger van der Zande and Ryan Briscoe hold an eight-point lead in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac over the #7 Acura of Ricky Taylor and Hélio Castroneves but van der Zande and Briscoe will both be out of the WTR entry after the team switches to Acura next year. Pipo Derani has a shot at the DPi title as he is 12 points back in the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac. 

LMP2 and GT Le Mans classes are virtually locked up. There will only be one entry in LMP2 at Laguna Seca with Patrick Kelly on the verge of capturing that title via default with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports. All the #3 Corvette of Antonio García and Jordan Taylor have to do is start the final two races and that title is theirs.

GT Daytona is tight with co-drivers Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth separated by two points, but those two will likely be split for the finale at Sebring with Hawksworth remaining in the #14 Lexus and Telitz in the #12 Lexus. Ryan Hardwick and Patrick Long have quietly climbed into this title battle. The #16 Wright Motorsports Porsche drivers are four points behind Telitz despite Hardwick and Long having yet to win a race this season. The #86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura of Mario Farnbacher and Trent Hindman are only five points back. 

Other events of note in November:
Formula One has three races: Imola, Turkey and the Bahrain Grand Prix.
MotoGP concludes with two races in Valencia and a season finale in Portimão.
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters ends at Hockenheim and the championship battle is between René Rast, Nico Müller and Robin Frijns.
Super GT has two races left: Motegi and Fuji. 
World Touring Car Cup has two rounds left: Aragón and Adria.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

2020 Road to Indy Review

This was a trying year for the Road to Indy and it took a harder hit than other motorsports enterprises around world. There was one big hit, the cancellation of the Indy Lights season, but two series were able to run a complete season. A few drivers stood out and are on their ways to becoming future IndyCar stars. 

We will look over each championship, Indy Lights included, to see how each driver did compared to preseason premonitions. 

Indy Lights
There was no Indy Lights season this year, and therefore there is no season to review. However, we were set to have a championship. Ten drivers were ready to compete in the season opener and they even completed a practice session at St. Petersburg before the plug was pulled on the opening weekend.

Losing Indy Lights put all those drivers in a difficult situation of being out of work at a time when pretty much every other series was set. Race teams are usually not looking to hire drivers in March. Despite this difficult circumstance, some of the Indy Lights persisted and found work in 2020. 

There might not have been an Indy Lights season to review, but I thought we could look at what these ten drivers did instead over this year.

Kyle Kirkwood: The 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion did not get to compete with Andretti Autosport in Indy Lights, but Kirkwood did run two events for the team in IndyCar's iRacing series because Ryan Hunter-Reay did not have the equipment to participate. He was ninth in the first event at Watkins Glen and 20th at Barber. 

On the blacktop, Kirkwood had already competed in 2020 prior to the shutdown. He won the opening round of the IMSA Prototype Challenge season at Daytona in the LMP3 class with Joel Janco and J.J. Jorge. Kirkwood ran three more events with Janco and finished third at Virginia International Raceway. He 
made his WeatherTech SportsCar championship debut at Petit Le Mans with the AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus program as the third driver with Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo. That entry ended up eighth. 

Robert Megennis: Megennis was set to return to Andretti Autosport for his second Indy Lights season. Instead, he competed in two European Le Mans Series races in the LMP3 class with RLR MSport. He had finishes of seventh and fourth. He also competed in the Indianapolis 8 Hours with Racers Edge Motorsport, sharing a Honda NSX with Trent Hindman and Shelby Blackstock on their way to a seventh-place finish. 

Danial Frost:  Frost was going to be the third Andretti Autosport driver in Indy Lights. Instead, Frost returned to Indy Pro 2000 when the Indy Lights season was canceled, and we will go into detail of his 2020 season in the Indy Pro 200 section below. Besides Indy Pro 2000, Frost started ten Formula Regional Americas races with only one podium finish.

Tristan Charpentier: Charpentier was a late addition to the Indy Lights grid for St. Petersburg in a fourth Andretti Autosport entry. Unfortunately, Charpentier had an accident in the lone session that took place and only completed four laps. His first bit of competition this year was the Indy Pro 2000 race at St. Petersburg, and he had two finishes of 11th.

Toby Sowery: Sowery was the top returning driver from the 2019 Indy Lights championship. He had finished third behind Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay and won a race at Portland. He has not competed in any series this year.

Rasmus Lindh: Lindh found a seat in the final five IMSA Prototype Challenge races and was runner-up at Road America and third at Mid-Ohio. He ran the Indy Pro 2000 races at St. Petersburg and finished sixth and fourth. 

Nikita Lastochkin: Lastochkin was set to make his Indy Lights debut with Exclusive Autosport, which was expanding into Indy Lights for 2020. He has not competed in 2020.

Antonio Serravalle: In an expanded three car HMD Motorsports, Serravalle was stepping up after two years in Indy Pro 2000. Instead, he ran one round of the Formula Regional Americas Championship at Mid-Ohio and finished tenth and 16th.

Santiago Urrutia: After spending 2019 in touring cars in Europe, Urrutia was set to return to Indy Lights, where he had previously finished second, second and third in the championship from 2016 to 2018.  With Indy Lights canceled, the Uruguayan returned to Europe and touring car racing, running in the World Touring Car Cup. He is 12th in that championship with two rounds to go. His best finish so far this season was third at Zolder.

David Malukas: A fun tidbit from 2020 is Malukas topped the only official practice session of the 2020 Indy Lights season. His lap of 66.266 seconds was 0.127 seconds ahead of Kirkwood and Lindh was 0.133 seconds back in third. Since that weekend, Malukas has spent 2020 in the Formula Regional Americas Championship. He was second in that championship behind Linus Lundqvist. Malukas won two races, stood on the podium 15 times and his worst finish was fifth.

Indy Pro 2000
Sting Ray Robb: #2 Firehouse/Goodheart Animal Health Centers Tatuus-Mazda (1st, 437 points)
What did I write before the season: This will be Robb's fourth year in Indy Pro 2000 and he is still looking for his first career victory. I think he will get it, but I am not sure he will be a championship contender. He was fourth last year and he could be a tad better but if he hasn't won a race in three years, I am not sure he can be penciled in for a championship in year four.

How incorrect was it: Robb took the championship in year four. He got that elusive victory and then took a stranglehold on the championship when he swept the three races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in September. He ended the season 11 nine consecutive top five finishes, eight of which were podiums and he had only two finishes outside the top five all season.

What should he do in 2021: He has the scholarship to move up and he just so happens to be with a team with a history of running Indy Lights cars and that team even has an Indy Lights championship. I expect Robb to remain in Juncos Racing green, though in a new series in 2021. It will be a tougher series. Robb could move up to Indy Lights and be a middle of the field driver. 

Devlin DeFrancesco: #17 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Tatuus-Mazda (2nd, 341 points)
What did I write before the season: Nothing, because DeFrancesco was not supposed to be in this series, nor was the Andretti Autosport/Steinbrenner Racing partnership planning on field a car in Indy Pro 2000. This is the odd "only possible because of the pandemic" entry. If everything goes as planned this year, this car is not on the grid.

How incorrect was it: Well, if DeFrancesco had been entered to run in Indy Pro 2000 originally, I would have said he would finish second in the championship on 341 points with two victories and six podium finishes and I would have ended up spot on.

What should he do in 2021: I think DeFrancesco is moving up to Indy Lights. For a guy who had no experience in the North American ladder system, he did quite well. The one issue is he did not end this season strong and there were days where he looked quick and a threat for victory but couldn't do better than second or third. More seat time could allow DeFrancesco to develop an ability to close out races and strengthen his race craft.

Daniel Frost: #68 DEN-JET Tatuus-Mazda (3rd, 329 points)
What did I write before the season: Frost did very well in his first year in Indy Pro 2000 and though his testing times were not stellar I think he will be respectable in Indy Lights. I do not think he is going to be challenging Kirkwood. I think Frost's results will pick up during the season and he is more likely to be competing with Megennis for second in the Andretti Autosport stable at the end of the year.

How incorrect was it: Very incorrect, because this was for Indy Lights and not Indy Pro 2000, so none of it was going to be correct. 

In all seriousness, he returned and looked great, opening the year with a victory, third and second. He had a spat of top five finishes in the middle of the year, but he never regained that spark and one year after finishing fifth in Indy Pro 2000, he finishes fourth in Indy Pro 2000.

What should he do in 2021: Frost was set to drive in Indy Lights this year with Andretti Autosport. He is not going to be in Indy Pro 2000 next year. However, I think a little shine is worn off. I think expectations were a little higher for him when he announced he was returning. He started well, but as the heat was turned up, Frost melted and evaporated out of sight in the championship discussion. 

Artem Petrov: #42 Race to Success/Bell/226ers Tatuus-Mazda (4th, 326 points)
What did I write before the season: Petrov was competitive in his five starts last year with RP Motorsports USA against teammate Kyle Kirkwood. He was sixth at Homestead, directly behind Robb. The goal should be to be the top Juncos Racing driver and that alone could be good enough to get a top five championship finish.

How incorrect was it: Petrov was not the top Juncos Racing driver, but he was in the top five of the championship with two victories and seven podium finishes. He did have spats of lackluster finishes that hurt his title hopes.

What should he do in 2021: Petrov would be fine in Indy Lights. There were one too many days where he wasn't a factor, but I think everyone had their share of off days in 2020. He would have to be minimized in Indy Lights if he wants to be one of the top drivers and impressive IndyCar teams.

Hunter McElrea: #18 Giltrap Group/Miles Advisory Partners/Doric NZ Tatuus-Mazda (5th, 320 points)
What did I write before the season: McElrea went back and forth with Braden Eves for the championship in 2019. McElrea put up a strong fight and part of me thinks he was more consistent than Eves in 2019 only to lose the title in the final weekend. I think he will be back at the front of the field with Eves in 2020 and competing for another championship.

How incorrect was it: McElrea was on the periphery of the championship battle, but never fully jumped into the fight. He ended the season with a victory in the final race and he did have four runner-up finishes and a third to go with it.

What should he do in 2021: This is tricky and it feels like what Oliver Askew went through with his Indy Pro 2000 season. Askew had some growing pains and toward the end of the season overcame those and showed he was one of the top three guys in the series. McElrea was close all year and he got that victory on the last day of the season. I think he could move up to Indy Lights and do well. If he stays in Indy Pro 2000, he is one of the early championship favorites.

Manuel Sulaimán: #12 Viva Aerobus Tatuus-Mazda (6th, 289 points)
What did I write before the season: Sulaimán had a good start in U.S. F2000 last year and then the results tapered off a bit. I think all the DEForce Racing drivers are good drivers, but they cannot all finish in the top five of the championship. Sulaimán will be somewhere in the back half of the top ten in the championship.

How incorrect was it: Sulaimán ended up sixth in the championship, but won two races and won two pole positions.

What should he do in 2021: He won races, but Sulaimán should stay in Indy Pro 2000. There is still some room for growth. At one point, there was a six-horse race for this championship, and he wasn't one of the six horses. Next year could be a great opportunity for him in Indy Pro 2000.

Parker Thompson: #9 DEForce Racing/Tundra Process Solutions/Nossack Food Group Tatuus-Mazda (7th, 283 points)
What did I write before the season: Thompson is ready for Indy Lights. He is the Santiago Urrutia of Indy Pro 2000. The championship has been eluding him and this will be his third team in three years in this series. He could win the championship and at worst he is in the top five.

How incorrect was it: This was off because Thompson never looked like a championship threat. He started with a 16th and an 11th at Road America. He didn't win a race. He only stood on the podium three times. He found a comfortable spot in the top five of many races but never pushed for a race victory.

What should he do in 2021: It is time to move up to Indy Lights. I know this year was a down year, but we have six seasons of Road to Indy experience to know Thompson is not some slouch. He is more than ready. He turns 23 years old next March and has plenty experience at all the tracks on the schedule. He is ready and he is reaching the age where is kind of aging out of Indy Pro 2000. It is one thing to spend three years in U.S. F2000 when you are a teenager. He is a man now. It is time to make that next step.

Colin Kaminsky: #19 Slick Locks Tatuus-Mazda (8th, 252 points)
What did I write before the season: Kaminsky did very well in U.S. F2000 but couldn't get that elusive victory. I think he will be good but with the depth of this field a victory will be tough to come by. He could get one but end up finishing somewhere between fourth and eighth in the championship.

How incorrect was it: Kaminsky did not get that victory, but he had three podium finishes and had 13 top ten finishes on his way to finishing eighth in the championship.

What should he do in 2021: He should stick around in Indy Pro 2000. He laid a good foundation for 2021 and can take a step upward in his competitiveness.

Antoine Comeau: #3 Turn 3 Motorsport Tatuus-Mazda (9th, 181 points)
What did I write before the season: Nothing, and either Comeau wasn't entered for St. Petersburg, so I didn't write anything for him, or he was entered and I missed him.

How incorrect was it: It was not an outstanding season for Comeau. He was ninth in the championship, the worst of the full-time competitors, and his best finish was seventh.

What should he do in 2021: There is a lot of room for improvement, though I am not sure it will matter. A couple promising drivers will be leaving but there is equally as talented youth coming in for 2021.

Kory Enders: #7 MB Sugar Land/McLaren Houston Tatuus-Mazda (10th, 164 points)
What did I write before the season: I think Enders could be slightly better this year, but it is going to be tough to challenge for a championship. There is a chance he could get a victory and he could end up in the top five of the championship.

How incorrect was it: Enders missed the opening round at Road America, but he was not close to the top five in the championship. He had only one top five finish all season.

What should he do in 2021: Enders bounces around and doesn't really stay put. It feels like he is in the Road to Indy but not a part of the Road to Indy. If he wants to return to Indy Pro 2000 then so be it, but he has to fully be there.

Braden Eves: #1 Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/MDRN Livery/CCFI/Huston Insurance Tatuus-Mazda (11th, 164 points)
What did I write before the season: Eves was fastest at the Chris Griffith Memorial Test back in October and he topped the Homestead test. He started the 2019 U.S. F2000 season strong but got caught in a rut before digging himself out at the end of the year. I think Eves can be a factor for this championship and win multiple races, but he needs to be more consistent this year than he was last year.

How incorrect was it: Unfortunately, Eves' season ended early when he suffered fractured vertebrae in his neck after an accident at the IMS road course. At the time, Eves had a victory, a runner-up finish and four top five finishes from eight starts. 

What should he do in 2021: I think we are all hoping Eves heals and can return to competition in 2021. It was announced that he would return with Exclusive Autosport next season. That is the right move. 

Moisés de la Vara: #6 UAG/Isla Navidad Tatuus-Mazda (12th, 163 points)
What did I write before the season: De la Vara was in the middle of the pack last year and his testing results have him in the same place. I think he could pick up a few top five finishes, but I am not sure he can be a contender for race victories.

How incorrect was it: de la Vara picked up no top five finishes and didn't compete for any race victories and he did not run at New Jersey, leaving him 12th in the championship.

What should he do in 2021: It is never a good sign when a driver misses a race weekend late in the year. I am not sure he will be back. The results have to pick up if he does return. 

Who should we have seen more of?
The main answer is Braden Eves. I am not sure if he could have stopped Robb from winning the championship, but I do believe Eves could have been in the top five and could have positioned himself for an Indy Lights ride in 2021.

RP Motorsports was due to run Swedish driver Lucas Petterson and American Phillippe Denes, but had to withdraw from the championship due to the pandemic and the Italian team could not properly operate teams in Europe and the United States. Denes was the top driver in the Road to Indy's iRacing series held during the lockdown. 

One other name I will throw out is Kody Swanson, who won at Indianapolis Raceway Park and then had a nightmare race at Gateway. Indy Pro 2000 is not an oval series and it is unlikely we will see Swanson attempt road courses any time soon, but I wonder what the USAC Silver Crown champions foray into this series means for his future open-wheel plans.

Who have we seen enough of?
I am going to go positive on this one and it is Parker Thompson, because it is time for him to go to Indy Lights. Thompson has been doing everything the right way in his career. He does not have gobs of money, but he is able to stay on track and spend six years in the lower two divisions of the ladder system. On talent, he is more than ready for the next level. I hope the financial support is there to help him make that earned step up.

U.S. F2000
Christian Rasmussen: #6 JHDD, CSU | One Cure/Lucas Oil Tatuus-Mazda (1st, 394 points)
What did I write before the season: Rasmussen is the championship favorite. His 2019 season started slow, but he had a strong finish and that should carry over into 2020. He should have more than three race victories.

How incorrect was it: This was right, but I didn't think Rasmussen would do this. Six victories? That sounded good and possibly enough for a championship. Nine victories, including six to start the season? It was clear after the July Mid-Ohio weekend the championship was his for the taking.

What should he do in 2021: If Rasmussen skipped Indy Pro 2000 and leaped right to Indy Lights, I would not blame him. I thought he should have been in Indy Pro 2000 this year. I don't think he will skip a level, but I think he would be competitive in a likely under-subscribed 2021 Indy Lights grid. He will likely be on the Indy Pro 2000 grid next year and I believe he will be a title contender in that series.

Eduardo Barrichello: #22 Bib's Chocolate/Ale Tatuus-Mazda (2nd, 353 points)
What did I write before the season: Barrichello is going to make a big leap up. I think he could be a contender for a few victories and he could make a run for the championship. He was second at the Homestead test.

How incorrect was it: Barrichello did pick up a few victories, three to be exact, and he wasn't really a championship contender because Rasmussen wiped the floor with everyone, but Barrichello was one of the three best drivers this season.

What should he do in 2021: Barrichello should move up. There are improvements that have to be made. His number of top five finishes had to be higher to really pressure Rasmussen. I think those adjustments can come in Indy Pro 2000.

Reece Gold: #3 The Ticket Clinic Tatuus-Mazda (3rd, 341 points)
What did I write before the season: Gold had a tough 2019 season, but it was his first serious year in car racing and he is only 15 years old. I think 2020 results will be better and he will improve by at least three positions in the championship. He was tenth at the Homestead test.

How incorrect was it: Gold did improve by at least three positions in the championship. In fact, he improved by seven spots. He won two races and had ten podium finishes.

What should he do in 2021: Gold is ready to move up and he will with Juncos Racing. He is 16 years old. There is no need to rush. He doesn't have to be in IndyCar at 18 years old. He has some wiggle room where he could spend an extra year or two in a series if he needs it. He could do that in either Indy Pro 2000 or Indy Lights down the road. He is moving up at the right time, but he is young, and he can be patient if he needs to be.

Michael d'Orlando: #4 Focused Project Management/DB Collaborative Tatuus-Mazda (4th, 295 points)
What did I write before the season: D'Orlando has been in and out of the Road to Indy for a few years now. He had a few good results and a couple of bad results. He could be a top ten championship driver but I am not comfortable saying more than that.

How incorrect was it: The good news for d'Orlando is he got a chance to show his ability and he did exceptional. He won a race, he stood on the podium five times and had 11 top five finishes. A couple of tough days were mixed, but he was a bright spot from this season.

What should he do in 2021: If he moves up to Indy Pro 2000, it would not be the worst choice. If he stayed in U.S. F2000, it could allow him to polish off some of those rough areas and set him up for a better step up the ladder. This was a key year for d'Orlando and it helped his stock going forward.

Christian Brooks: #44 Hot Wheels/Chaco Flaco/Bell Helmets Tatuus-Mazda (5th, 284 points)
What did I write before the season: Brooks was a late addition to the test, and he was third quickest. Brooks and Campbell could be leading the way for Exclusive Autosport and both be competing for race victories. If you get enough victories, you could be in the top five or even be champion.

How incorrect was it: Brooks won the final race of the season at St. Petersburg. He ended up in the top five of the championship with three podium finishes and ten top five finishes.

What should he do in 2021: Brooks might be ready for Indy Pro 2000. He did get a race victory, but his number of podium finishes suggests he could use another year in U.S. F2000. If he stays in U.S. F2000, you can pencil him in as one of the early championship favorites.

Josh Green: #2 JHG Investment Fund Tatuus-Mazda (6th, 245 points)
What did I write before the season: Green is coming off the Team USA Scholarship and he had good results over at Brands Hatch and Silverstone. Testing results were slower than I expected with Green down in 12th. I am not sure that is a true indicator of where he will be. I think if he starts slow results will be better in the second half of the season

How incorrect was it: Green started strong with a second and third in the opening weekend at Road America. His results dipped a bit over the summer and became inconsistent. He did pick up a runner-up finish in New Jersey.

What should he do in 2021: Stay in U.S. F2000. He needs to work on his consistency.

Matt Round-Garrido: #23 Excel Labels Tatuus-Mazda (7th, 228 points)
What did I write before the season: I think all three Pabst Racing drivers could be in the top ten of the championship. That is easier said than done but all three have experience in this series and all three were good in testing. Round-Garrido was eighth at Homestead.

How incorrect was it: Round-Garrido ended up seventh in the championship after opening the season with four consecutive top five finishes, but he had only one in the rest of the season.

What should he do in 2021: Nothing yells at me that he is ready to move up to Indy Pro 2000. I think he should stay put.

Jack William Miller: #40 Indy Dental Group/LLC/Lumist Tatuus-Mazda (8th, 215 points)
What did I write before the season: Things have to get better because he was the second worst of the full-time drivers in 2019. I am not saying things are going to be extraordinarily better, but they should be better. He will get into three figures when it comes to points.

How incorrect was it: Miller did get into the three-figure range when it comes to points. He had two races at the IMS road course where he was in contention for victory, one of which he led the most laps at and went off course and kind of threw away a victory.

What should he do in 2021: I don't think he is good enough to be a U.S. F2000 champion. If he makes the same gains from this season in 2021, he should pull out at least one victory and be challenging for the top five of the championship.

Cameron Shields: #20 Metalloid Corporation Tatuus-Mazda/#10 DEForce Racing Tatuus-Mazda (9th, 214 points)
What did I write before the season: I thought Shields could win races last year and he did get one victory before his season was cut short. Shields could be a championship contender if he is full-time.

How incorrect was it: Shields was full-time, but he was not a championship contender. He did switch teams midseason, leaving Legacy Autosport after the first six races and moving to DEForce Racing for the final nine races. Results picked up after switch. After having his best finish be sixth with Legacy Autosport, Shield scored two top podium finishes and another top five with DEForce Racing. He also won pole position at St. Petersburg but got caught in an incident and ruined a promising final weekend.

What should he do in 2021: Find a stable team that will give him an entire U.S. F2000 season to contest. Legacy Autosport has been kind of wishy-washy and prone to midseason driver changes. I think that Shields was in a poor fit at the start of this year. 

Kiko Porto: #12 Banco Daycoval/Petromega Tatuus-Mazda (10th, 198 points)
What did I write before the season: Porto should do well and be competing for the top ten in the championship. It could be a case where Porto needs a race weekend or two to get his legs and by the middle of the year, he could be in contention for a few race victories.

How incorrect was it: Porto ended up tenth in the championship after missing two rounds at Road America and New Jersey, but he was in contention for multiple race victories. He won the first St. Petersburg race and was second in the final race. At the IMS road course, he started on pole position for the first two races and he had finishes of third, fourth and third.

What should he do in 2021: Porto missed a few races and I think a full U.S. F2000 season would be good for him. He could be good enough to move up to Indy Pro 2000. He did have some tough races so there are a couple things he could clean up before moving up the ladder. 

Prescott Campbell: #1 Lucas Oil School of Racing Tatuus-Mazda (11th, 167 points)
What did I write before the season: (Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series) is the same series Reece Gold came from. This is a big step for Campbell. Gold had some good races in 2019 and he was top ten in the championship. The biggest difference is Campbell topped the Homestead test. I think top ten in the championship has to be the goal for Campbell but after testing the bar is a little higher. I think he has to be shooting for the top five.

How incorrect was it: That testing pace did not carry over into the season. Campbell had a exhausting start to the season with his best finish being tenth in the first 12 races. However, he appeared to turn a corner in New Jersey with a finish of fifth in race one and a third in the third race.

What should he do in 2021: Stay in U.S. F2000, because I think there is a sign of hope. He moved from the Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series and was 11th in the championship in year one of U.S. F2000. Gold was tenth last year in U.S. F2000 after moving over from the Lucas Oil series. Looking at the progress Gold made in year two of U.S. F2000, Campbell should be encouraged. This was a rough season. There was less track time. Everyone gets a second chance next year. Very few people can be written off after this year due to the circumstances.

Yuven Sundaramoorthy: #21 S team Motorsports Tatuus-Mazda (12th, 165 points)
What did I write before the season: Testing results are encouraging for Sundaramoorthy but the testing results are encouraging for his Pabst Racing teammates as well. He will finish better than 12th in the championship but I am not sure he could get higher than seventh or eighth.

How incorrect was it: A poor final weekend, combined with Kiko Porto's great final two races dropped Sundaramoorthy to 12th in the championship and he did not get higher than seventh or eighth in the championship. He had only one top five finish to his name.

What should he do in 2021: I think Sundaramoorthy is a good driver, but the results need to improve. A third year in U.S. F2000 would do him well, but if the number of top five finishes do not pick up then I think that says it all for him.

Nolan Siegel: #9 Menlo Ventures/Aero Paint Technology Tatuus-Mazda (13th, 158 points)
What did I write before the season: Siegel is 15 years old and he was 15th in the championship in his first year in car racing. He is going to improve, and I think he gets into the top ten of championship. He was seventh at the Homestead test.

How incorrect was it: Siegel just missed out on the top ten of the championship, but he did get two podium finishes, another top five and he won a pole position and set a fastest lap in New Jersey. 

What should he do in 2021: He is only going to be 16 years old next year. There is no need to rush. Another year in U.S. F2000 would do him well.

Who should we have seen more of?
Kiko Porto. I am not sure he would have been a championship contender but he likely would have been in the fight for a top five championship finish and might have picked up a few more victories.

Who have we seen enough of?
It is U.S. F2000. A lot of these drivers are young and just getting into car racing. 

Looking to 2021
There was hope over the return of Indy Lights next year, but after the 2021 schedule was released and it included no Freedom 100, on top of Roger Penske's recent interview with the Indianapolis Star, I am still skeptical the series will return and return at a higher level than where the series was at before. 

There are plenty of drivers that could fill Indy Lights with 16 to 20 cars, but with where the series has been for the last decade, I question if the infrastructure and interest exists for such a field size. 

Years from now there will be plenty of retrospectives looking at how the pandemic created a lost year for people from all walks of life. In the moment, we know this was a lost year for Indy Lights and the drivers that planned on competing. 

Some drivers were able to compete in an array of series, but none of those provided the same opportunity as an Indy Lights season. There should be one driver heading into the offseason knowing he will have a shot at three IndyCar races in 2021, one of those being the Indianapolis 500. Instead, that scholarship has been delayed a year and what should have been the class of 2020 now combines with another set of equally as talented and hunger drivers to form a monstrous class of 2021. There is not going to be a second scholarship up for grabs. This has created a logjam that will stick around for a few years. A few drivers risk getting trapped due to the increased competition. A few drivers will leave for more opportunities in other series. IndyCar could miss out on someone great.

Normally, we are talking about IndyCar aspirations for at least one or two drivers in this section, but there are going to be no graduates to IndyCar this year. Kyle Kirkwood, Rasmus Lindh, Toby Sowery and Santiago Urrutia are all a year behind and not because of their own faults. While they stay behind, there are another half-dozen drivers still on track for promotion into IndyCar. Both sides are going to lose out in 2021. 

In theory, there is an exciting 2021 Indy Lights championship that exists with the drivers who were supposed to be competing in 2020 and at least a half-dozen guys from Indy Pro 2000 ready to move up. I doubt that come to fruition, but for IndyCar and the Road to Indy's sake it almost has to. 

A mass influx of Indy Pro 2000 drivers to Indy Lights could unbalance the scales and shift the low car count problem to one of the other two series. It is a touchy time across the board. Indy Pro 2000 does not have a lot of leash to play with. U.S. F2000 did well this year attracting entries, but this wasn't its best year either. 

This is a problem that will not vanish overnight for the Road to Indy and the pandemic ending will not allow the floodgates to open. It might take years before all three series are simultaneously all at a comfortable level. This was just the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the ramifications have yet to come.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

How did Lewis Hamilton Break Michael Schumacher's Grand Prix Victories Record?

October 22, 2006
Michael Schumacher had already spent two weeks with his back against the wall. 

The tide would not turn in Brazil. 

Fuel pressure issues ahead of the final round of qualifying forced Schumacher to start tenth in a race he had to win to take his eighth World Drivers' Championship. He also needed Fernando Alonso to fail to score points, something that had only happened twice to the Spaniard. 

Three weeks earlier, Schumacher and Alonso were tied in the world championship. While Renault made a handful of strategical mistakes, Schumacher pulled off a masterful drive in the wet-to-dry conditions from sixth on the grid to take his 91st grand prix victory in the Chinese Grand Prix. His 91st victory put him and Alonso level on points with two races to go and the tiebreaker was in Schumacher's favor. 

At Suzuka, a week after his 91st victory, Schumacher was holding serve. He started second to Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa and at the end of lap three, Schumacher had taken the lead. Alonso had qualified fifth and had to fight to the front. He had passed the Toyotas and leapfrogged Massa during the first pit cycle, but after the second pit cycle, Alonso continued to trail Schumacher by over five seconds as the race entered its final phase.

With 18 laps to go, it appeared Schumacher would have a cushion in Brazil after Alonso had dominated the championship up until the Asian swing. With 17 laps to go, Schumacher lost his engine heading under the bridge and Alonso took the lead. It was the first Ferrari engine failure since the 2000 French Grand Prix. Massa had been unable to keep up with the two championship contenders and was unable to two pressure Alonso or counter and at least take two points away from the Spaniard.

Alonso coasted to his first victory since the Canadian Grand Prix in June. His gap to Schumacher ballooned to ten points. A solitary point, an eighth-place finish, in Interlagos was all Alonso needed for his second consecutive world championship.

Schumacher could not afford for his 91st victory to be his final victory. A 92nd victory was necessary to walk away from Formula One as champion.

The qualifying issues created a bleak outlook on the German's title chances at the start of the Brazilian Grand Prix. Contact with Giancarlo Fisichella in the first ten laps did more than puncture Schumacher's left rear tire. It popped his championship aspirations and the 92nd career victory that had to go along with it. 

From behind, Schumacher left it all out on the racetrack, charging from 19th at the end of lap 11 to fourth at the checkered flag 60 laps later, setting the fastest lap on the penultimate lap for good measure. He was 24 seconds behind Massa, who took a popular home victory. Alonso had a pleasant Sunday drive to second on a track and a second world championship in the history books. 

When Schumacher walked away from Formula One after that October race, his 91 career victories were 40 more than Alain Prost in second. The best active driver was Alonso on 15 victories. David Coulthard was second best with 13 victories. No other active driver had more than nine victories. Schumacher's records, his seven world championships and his 91 victories appeared untouchable. No driver, not even Alonso fresh off consecutive world championship, was thought capable of re-creating the level of success Schumacher had, especially his final seven seasons with Ferrari. 

October 22, 2006 was also the last time a Formula One race did not feature Lewis Hamilton. 

Fourteen years later, Hamilton celebrated his 92nd grand prix victory under overcast Portuguese skies at the 73rd different circuit to host a Formula One race. A seventh World Drivers' Championship celebration is due for some time in the next month. 

Juan Manuel Fangio at least had 45 years until someone matched him on championships. Literally, the next kid on the Formula One scene matched Schumacher's career, and Hamilton is not done yet. 

How could this have happened? How could the untouchable be tossed aside in 14 years? How did Hamilton immediately duplicate a once-in-a-century career?

Schumacher had Ferrari. Hamilton had Mercedes. 

That is the easiest way to define it, but it does overshadow an entire first act of Hamilton's career at McLaren. 

For the first six seasons, Hamilton drove for the team that spotted him as a boy and he found great success from the start. He matched Jacques Villeneuve's record of four victories in a rookie season on his way to a runner-up championship finish, falling one point behind Kimi Räikkönen. As a sophomore, Hamilton picked up five more victories and won the world championship. 

Every year Hamilton was with McLaren, he won multiple races. By the end of year six, he had 21 victories, 13th all-time, third amongst active drivers. Alonso had doubled his total but was still 61 victories behind Schumacher. Sebastian Vettel was in the middle of something special and up to 26 victories. 

Schumacher also had two distinct phases of his career, except his Benetton phase was not nearly as long as Hamilton's stint at McLaren. Schumacher's career also started at the back end of 1991, first in a one-off with Jordan, before Benetton swooped in and locked up the German for the final four races. 

In his first two full seasons at Benetton, Schumacher won one race a year. Eight victories and his first championship followed in 1994. Nine victories and a second championship came in 1995. Off two championships, Schumacher moved to Ferrari. From 1992 to 1997, Schumacher's first six full seasons, he won 27 races, tied with Jackie Stewart for fourth all-time. 

Both drivers hit a low point in the middle of their careers. For Hamilton, it was his first year at Mercedes, a move proactively done ahead of the new turbo hybrid regulations due for the 2014 season. In 2013, Hamilton won only one race and only had five podium finishes on his way to finishing fourth in the world championship. 

Schumacher's low point came after his broken leg in the 1999 British Grand Prix, which forced him to miss six races. Up to that point, he had won two of the first seven races and returned for the final two rounds to run block for Eddie Irvine, who was challenging Mika Häkkinen for the championship. Schumacher was runner-up in both races, lifting him to a fifth-place championship finish despite his absence.

Off of those low points, each driver hit their greatest period of success. Schumacher would win five consecutive championships and 48 victories in the process. After a down 2005 season, which saw one victory in the United States Grand Prix, Schumacher's final go with the Scuderia netted seven more victories. 

Hamilton is on the verge of his sixth championship in seven years and has amassed 70 victories to break Schumacher's record. His fewest victories in season since 2014 is nine and he is currently on eight in what is a slightly truncated 2020 season compared to the original plan. 

Schumacher reached his 91st victory in his 15th full season. This is Hamilton's 14th full season, however this 17-race 2020 schedule will only match the shortest championship of Hamilton's career. For Schumacher, 16 or 17 races was the norm. His first season with more than 17 races was 18 races in 2004. The only time he ran 20 races in a season was his final year in 2012 with Mercedes while Hamilton has run at least 20 races in five seasons. 

Hamilton's 91st victory did come in his 261st start while Schumacher reached 91 victories in his 244th start. When you factor in that Hamilton runs about three more races per season compared to Schumacher, it seems only fitting it took 17 more races, basically an additional season, for Hamilton to reach the same milestone in one fewer season.

Longer schedules played a hand in Hamilton breaking this record, but Mercedes deserves recognition the same way Ferrari played into Schumacher's success.

For the second time in two decades, the best driver paired with the best team and in both cases historic accomplishments were achieved. This iteration of Mercedes does mirror the turn of the century Ferrari outfit. You have the driver who gets the spotlight, but the people behind the scenes are the best in the business.

Schumacher had Ross Brawn, Jean Todt and Rory Byrne. Hamilton has had Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe. James Allison and Aldo Costa each played a significant role in the success for both these drivers. Strong technical sides allowed both drivers to achieve their greatness. That common thread of Allison and Costa linking the two perhaps deserves more attention than it gets. Costa's fingerprints are 14 World Constructors' Championship winning cars. Allison was around for Schumacher's final five championships and has been a part of Hamilton's dominance since 2017. 

Reliability was on both their sides, removing that one hinderance that has diminished the résumés of many of their counterparts. 

Schumacher went over six years between engine failures when one occurred at the worst possible time in 2006. From 2002 to 2004, he had two retirements, Brazil 2003 when he aquaplaned off course, and Monaco 2004 when Juan Pablo Montoya ran into the back of Schumacher under a safety car period while Schumacher was leading. 

Since joining Mercedes in 2013, Hamilton has had eight retirements while Schumacher had 15 retirements from 2000 to 2006. Two of Hamilton's retirements came after contact with a teammate. Hamilton has not dropped out of a race since Austria 2018.
In both cases, it was a combination of timely moves and a collection of the top personnel in the business building the best car on the grid for the best driver in the world. Schumacher's move to Ferrari was a perfect storm. It didn't lead to a championship immediately, but it eventually panned out. Hamilton's move to Mercedes was criticized. Mercedes was not a race-winning organization ahead of the 2013 season. It appeared Hamilton was making a mistake and taking a huge risk. 

Simultaneous to Hamilton's move was another period of dominance for a team and driver: Red Bull and Vettel. Heading into 2013, all the chips would have been on Vettel challenging Schumacher's records. He captured his fourth consecutive championship at the end of that season with nine consecutive victories. Vettel had four titles and 39 victories to Hamilton's one title and 22 victories. 

In quick time, the turbo-hybrid era flipped everything. Mercedes knocked it out of the park while Red Bull struggled with the Renault engine. Mercedes avoided the pitfalls while Red Bull kept finding new ones. Red Bull's marriage to Vettel ended immediately after a dismal 2014 season. It alienated Renault, led to re-badging the engines as TAG Heuer and then led the team to Honda. While Red Bull has won some races, it has never come close to Mercedes.

Vettel joined Ferrari, following in the footsteps as his German idol, won some races and was a championship contender once until he went off track in the drizzle at Hockenheim. Mental errors litter Vettel's time at Ferrari and after six seasons he will leave Maranello for Aston Martin. After once being 17 victories ahead of Hamilton, Vettel trails Hamilton by 39 victories. 

With Hamilton's success coming immediately on the heels of Schumacher historic run, maybe this is setting up a new trend for Formula One and instead of repeating the clichés of we will never see this again, we should be expecting someone else to rack up nearly 100 grand prix victories in the next 20 years. 

If wasn't Hamilton, it very well could have been Vettel and Red Bull smashing the records last decade. We had seen periods of dominance before, but Schumacher and Ferrari elevated it to a new level. For the first four decades of Formula One, a manufacture could have a good two or three-year period but someone else would figure it out. From the start of the World Constructors' Championship in 1958 through 1987, only once did a manufacture take the title in three consecutive seasons, Ferrari from 1975 to 1977. There were six other instances of consecutive constructors' champions.

Since 1988, we have had eight periods of consecutive constructors' championships and five of those have been for three seasons or longer.  McLaren won four consecutive constructors' championships at the end of the 1980s into the 1990s. Williams won five of six constructors' title during the 1990s. Ferrari took it to another level with six consecutive championships and eight in ten years at the end of the 2000s. 

Red Bull would follow it with four consecutive and Mercedes is on its current tear, likely extending its streak to a record seven consecutive titles. 

Mercedes will eventually come up short one year, but whoever is next up will likely hang around for a handful of years. There will likely be another driver to break into the 40-victory or 50-victory atmosphere. If that driver can replicate Hamilton's hit rate of 35.11%, then 91 victories and possibly 100 victories has some life if a driver runs 15 years and averages 20 grand prix a season. 

Hamilton is not done. He will have a few years left in his career and he will likely raise the bar a little higher. He has still not signed up for the 2021 season, but we all think he will and if he does Hamilton will reach the century mark. When Hamilton is finished, the bar will be further out of reach than where Schumacher set it, but recent history is suggesting it is not unreachable. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: 2020 IndyCar Predictions: Revisited

Josef Newgarden won the race and Scott Dixon won the IndyCar championship at St. Petersburg. Lewis Hamilton broke Michael Schumacher's record for grand prix victories in the first Portuguese Grand Prix since 1996. Chris Simmons kept his record for most U.S. F2000 victories. Takaaki Nakagami had his first bad of the season come when he started on pole position. Nobody wants to win the MotoGP championship and now other riders are entering the picture. The NASCAR race from Texas was washed out to 10:00 a.m. ET this morning. However, the IndyCar season is over, and we have some predictions to revisit. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

2020 IndyCar Predictions: Revisited
How did predictions made last New Year's Eve, long before quarantines, lockdowns and basic livelihood tasks required strict restrictions, survive a pandemic-riddled IndyCar season? The world on December 31, 2019 was a much different place. We had no clue what 2020 had in store. How did any of these pan out?

1. Team Penske does not win either Indianapolis race
Ok... we did not plan for four races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hence the either, it was one or the other, not one of four. 

I am saying correct, because the original plan was for two IMS races, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500. Scott Dixon won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis driving for Chip Ganassi Racing and Takuma Sato won the Indianapolis 500 driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. 

I am saying correct. Two races were planned and the two originally planned races were not Team Penske victories. We can keep adding races to every racetrack and eventually Team Penske would gt a victory and it would not take long. Three races is more than plenty for Team Penske to get a victory.

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
Yes. The Harvest Grand Prix was not on the original schedule when the predictions were made. Team Penske of course won the two Harvest Grand Prix races with Josef Newgarden and Will Power. If you count all the IMS races, then this prediction is wrong, but there were not four races when the prediction was made. We aren't counting the Harvest Grand Prix.

2. Alexander Rossi wins at least two races by less than six seconds
Wrong! Rossi won zero races.

This was a trying season for Rossi. His first race at Texas was derailed at the start when he was one of three Hondas that had mechanical issues on the grid, putting him a lap down immediately and in a hole he could never overcome. At the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, fuel pressure issues ended his race and he had multiple off-track excursions in the first Road America race.

When things started getting better, his Indianapolis 500 was ruined after a penalty for an unsafe pit exit and his aggression led to an accident. A dreadful Gateway weekend followed, but the season ended on an incredible high-note, four consecutive podium finishes between Mid-Ohio and the Harvest Grand Prix, but none of those were visits to the top step of the podium. Rossi was on the verge of victory at St. Petersburg prior to his accident after barely stepping into the marbles. It was cruel end to a cruel season. He at least could have ended on a high note, instead he ends on a punishing low, similar to where he was when the season started at Texas.

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
It did shorten the schedule by three races and it did alter the schedule. Instead of having races at Long Beach, Austin and Belle Isle, there were three races on the IMS road course, two races at Road America, two races at Mid-Ohio and two races at Gateway.

If the IndyCar schedule went to its previously determined length and at all the tracks, maybe Rossi wins two races and each of those races are by less than six seconds. Rossi had plenty of issues this season, so maybe he wouldn't have won in a non-pandemic season. 

3. Felix Rosenqvist gets his first career victory in the first half of the season
Correct! It took four races for Rosenqvist to get his first career victory. It came after Rosenqvist chased down Patricio O'Ward in a race where tire degradation played the deciding hand. 

Rosenqvist could have won the season opener at Texas. He had the second-best car to Dixon, but closed in on Dixon over the final laps and made a daring move to compete for the victory in lapped traffic. Though that Texas accident ruined his race, it was clear Rosenqvist had the pace for a possible victory. Similar to Rossi, he had plenty of tough days that did not match his pace. It did work out for Rosenqvist though, as he did get a victory. His sophomore season was not completely a sophomore slump, but it was a slight step back.

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
Rosenqvist won in the first half of the season and it was a doubleheader at Road America. If the schedule happened as planned, Road America isn't a doubleheader, Road America isn't in the first half of the season, but St. Petersburg and Long Beach both would have been and Rosenqvist was strong at both those tracks last year. 

Maybe, he still wins in the first half, though we can never really know.

4. The difference between Colton Herta's average starting position and average finishing position is less than 3.0

Herta averaged a starting position of 6.461 and average a finish of 7.428.

He kept up his qualifying prowess, but he cleaned up the bad days. A lot of those bad days in 2019 were due to mechanical failures, but this year Herta was exquisite. He went from three top five finishes to seven top five finishes and from eight top ten finishes to 11 top ten finishes. Those kind of results will significantly lower an average finish of 13.2 

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
I am going to say no. Herta was bound to clean up the mistakes and avoid the mechanical gremlins. If he did both those things, he was bound to cut at least three positions off his average finish, regardless of the pandemic. 

5. Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay are within 2.0 points per race of each other

VeeKay scored 4.39 points more than Askew per race. 

When this prediction was made, Askew was not confirmed to a full-time ride and there was a thought he would only be part-time. He did get a full-time ride and it was going well until his accident at Indianapolis and then he missed two races, which wouldn't hurt him because it was points per race for each driver, but those four races at Gateway and Mid-Ohio saw Askew and VeeKay move in separate directions. Askew was stuck in the back and VeeKay was reeling off top ten finishes.

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
No. Askew fell in a rut. The likelihood of Askew having that same accident at Indianapolis and suffering that same injury would be slim, and the season would have been different, but I cannot hold that against VeeKay. Askew may have always found a rough patch in a non-pandemic season. Maybe VeeKay experiences something similar in a non-pandemic season, or perhaps he avoids it like he did and becomes the toast of the series in 2020 either way.

6. Jack Harvey does not meet the goals Mike Shank has set

Mike Shank set the goals of top eight in the championship, advance to the second round of qualifying at every road/street course race and have two to three podium finishes. 

Harvey only met advancing to the second round of qualifying, but there were only two races where three-round knockout qualifying was held. However, that is fine. 

These were high expectations for a single-car team, but Harvey had a strong season all things considered. His qualifying record was strong and in many races he showed encouraging pace. A few cautions fell against him and cost him some good results, most notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Gateway, but all things considered, this was a great year for Meyer Shank Racing. 

Yes, there were no podium finishes and the team was only 15th in the championship, but eighth was an incredible ask. There are three Penske entries, five Andretti entries and three Ganassi entries. That is 11 entries, all of which were top ten championship contenders. Throw in two Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entries and two Arrow McLaren SP entries, that is 15 cars. Harvey mixed it up with those race-winning teams and showed MSR has what it takes to compete in IndyCar. The future is bright for this operation. 

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
I feel like this was expected from MSR, regardless of whether or not the pandemic happened. 

7. Graham Rahal does not have a fifth consecutive decline in championship finish

Rahal stopped the slide. 

After finishing fourth in 2015, he went on to finish fifth, sixth, eighth and tenth, and in 2020, Rahal ended up sixth.

How did he stop the slide?

One, he got back up to three podium finishes. After two years where he only stood on the podium once in each season. Two, he had five top five finishes, his most since 2017. Three, his average finish was better than his previous two seasons. From 2015 to 2017, his average finish was below nine. The two years after that it was over 11. This year was more in the middle at 9.714 and things got better. 

Rahal benefitted from race winners not being more successful. Sato won the Indianapolis 500, but he had two top five finishes and had four finishes outside the top fifteen. Pagenaud won at Iowa, but only had four top five finishes and had five finishes outside the top fifteen. Rosenqvist won at Road America, but he had only one other top five finish all season. 

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
Slightly. He did match his finish in the Mid-Ohio doubleheader and Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader. If those races were at other tracks, the results could have been different and his championship finish could have been worse, but this felt like a typical Rahal season, and I don't think he would have dropped from sixth in the championship to seventh if Long Beach happens instead of a second Mid-Ohio race or if Richmond happens and Iowa only had one race. This was a solid year from Rahal, but, frustratingly, not quite great.

8. Santino Ferrucci finishes outside the top eight in oval points

After ending up fourth in oval points in 2019, Ferrucci dropped to tenth in oval points. 

It is partly because the likes of Takuma Sato and Patricio O'Ward had oval seasons that were better than expected. Colton Herta decreased his number of poor oval races, which he couldn't escape in 2019. Jack Harvey was stout for his first full year on ovals. 

Ferrucci also had his first bad day on an oval. He had to retire from the Texas race after a botched pit stop. He had another outstanding Indianapolis 500, finishing fourth, but that double points race could not make up for four finishes outside the top ten and his next best oval finish being tenth at Gateway.

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
Not really. There was one more oval race than originally planned and Richmond did not happen. I am not sure one fewer oval race and running a race at Richmond would have been the difference in Ferrucci being in the top eight or not. Even if you dropped the worst oval result for each driver, he would still have been tenth.

9. Richmond has somewhere between 400-600 passes
Richmond did not happen. We will never know how many passes a Richmond race would have had and it will be some time until we find out. 

Richmond was cancelled this year. It was not included in next year's calendar. Maybe there is hope for 2022, but let's not get our spirits up. 

10. There are at least nine different race winners

There were only seven winners in 2020 and six were repeat winners from 2019: Dixon, Newgarden, Herta, Power, Sato and Pagenaud. The only change was Rosenqvist for Rossi.

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
There were three fewer races, so that was three fewer chances at winner number eight and winner number nine. Would we get two different winners in three races? Those odds are slightly low, but Rossi, Rahal, O'Ward and Ryan Hunter-Reay were among those without a victory. It would have been possible and not entirely unthinkable.

11. Marcus Ericsson finishes ahead of the second AMSP driver in the championship

Though, Ericsson did get aided with Oliver Askew missing the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader. Ericsson ended up 12th and Askew finished 19th.

This was a sneaky good year for Ericsson in his sophomore run. His nine top ten finishes were behind only Dixon, Newgarden, Herta and O'Ward, the top four in the championship and he was tied with Rahal on nine top ten finishes. That means he had more top ten finishes than Rossi, Indianapolis 500 winner Sato, two-time race winner Power, Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud, and most importantly, his own teammate Rosenqvist, who had only five top ten finishes. 

Rosenqvist topped Ericsson in the championship by 15 points. Even if the Indianapolis 500 had been single points, Rosenqvist and Ericsson would have still been 11th and 12th, but only two points would have separated the Swedes.

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
Possibly. Askew did have a good start to the season, but I think his championship finish in this case was more due to his concussion-like symptoms. The tracks would have been different. Askew had never been to Long Beach and Belle Isle. The edge could have been always been in Ericsson's favor. 

12. There will not be one race that starts on one day and ends on another

Though plenty of races were moved around. St. Petersburg went from March to October. One Indianapolis race went from May to July and the famous one went from May to August. Mid-Ohio was set to go in early August and a week before its scheduled date it was postponed, eventually falling in the middle of September. 

But none bridged from a Saturday to a Sunday or a Sunday to a Monday, or in the case of 2020, started on a Friday and finished on a Saturday.

Did the pandemic affect this prediction?
Nope. But weather did cooperate.

Dropping the Richmond prediction, I went eight for 11, which is pretty good. I am not going to be upset with the ones that were incorrect. Strange year. Perfection would only make it stranger. 

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

Sting Ray Robb and Hunter McElrea split the Indy Pro 2000 races from St. Petersburg. Kiko Porto and Christian Brooks split the U.S. F2000 races, the first career victories for both drivers.

Franco Morbidelli won MotoGP's Teruel Grand Prix, his second victory of the season. Sam Lows won the Moto2 race, his third consecutive victory and he has taken the championship lead. Jame Masiá won the Moto3 race, his second consecutive victory. 

The #98 ROWE Racing Porsche of Nick Tandy, Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber won the 24 Hours of Spa. 

Harrison Burton won the Grand National Series race from Texas, his third victory of the season. Sheldon Creed won the Truck race, his fourth victory of the season.

The #23 NISMO Nissan of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won the Super GT race from Suzuka, his second victory of the season. The #21 Audi Sport Team Hitotsuyama Audi of Shintaro Kawabata and Tsubasa Kondo won in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One returns to Imola for the first time in 14 years. 
NASCAR has its penultimate round of 2020 at Martinsville.
IMSA has its penultimate round of 2020 at Laguna Seca.
Portimão remains busy with the European Le Mans Series season finale.
Aragón remains busy with the World Touring Car Cup for its penultimate round of 2020.