Friday, October 22, 2021

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Dale Coyne Racing's 2021 Season

The fourth IndyCar Wrap-Up is Dale Coyne Racing. IndyCar's smallest team continues to be one of IndyCar's most interesting teams. This year was no different, as the team brought back a former driver who won rookie of the year with the organization, and a Formula One transfer who came to IndyCar as one of the most known drivers in the world after his exit from the grand prix stage.

Romain Grosjean drew much attention for all the right reasons

Romain Grosjean
One of the most anticipated IndyCar introductions, Grosjean came to IndyCar with his Formula One career abbreviated by two races after a fiery accident in the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix. Nearly five months after his final Formula One appearance, and with healed hands, Grosjean debuted in IndyCar and had a rookie season full of tremendously encouraging highs.

What objectively was his best race?
The Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Pole position and 44 laps led on his way to a runner-up finish. It could have been better for Grosjean. He struggled with traffic and the primary tires during the middle of the race, keeping Rinus VeeKay and Álex Palou in contention. VeeKay's pace was more consistent over each stint and it gave the Dutchman the victory while Grosjean settled for second. Grosjean was also second in the August IMS road course race.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is hard to go against the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but Grosjean was incredible at Laguna Seca. Starting 13th, Grosjean had one of the best balanced cars and had speed on both tire compounds. He made not one, not two but three passes into the Corkscrew and gained positions on each stint. His strategy saw him drive up to third when he took the checkered flag.

Grosjean also spent much Road America around the top five and finished fifth. His oval debut at Gateway deserves a mention. He passed many cars in that race but his problems on cold tires cost him all those spots after each pit stop and it dropped him to 14th, one lap down.
What objectively was his worst race?
It would be 24th in the second Belle Isle race when a brake failure took him out of the event. He was penalized earlier in that race after contact with Jack Harvey in turn six.
What subjectively was his worst race?
We can lump all the street courses in here. St. Petersburg was not bad considering he finished 13th, but he had an accident in the first Belle Isle race after already being knocked out of a front running position with a tire puncture, we covered the second Belle Isle race and Grosjean lost another top ten result when contact with Simon Pagenaud earned him a penalty in Nashville. He brushed the barrier while solidly in the top ten at Long Beach. At least Grosjean has an area to improve in 2022. 

Romain Grosjean's 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 15th (272 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 6
Laps Led: 53
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 8 
Average Start: 9.3077
Average Finish: 12.692

Ed Jones was back with Dale Coyne Racing in 2021

Ed Jones
After spending 2020 sidelined, mostly due to the pandemic, Jones returned to IndyCar and he was back to full-time competition after having last been part-time in the series. After three teams in three seasons, Jones was back where his IndyCar career started, where he made a good first impression. This time around, things were not as rosy as his rookie year. 

What objectively was his best race?
Jones avoided the mess at Nashville and came home in sixth-place, notably getting that sixth spot with a strong pass on Felix Rosenqvist late.

What subjectively was his best race?
Not many races standout for positives when it comes to Jones. Nashville is probably the correct answer to this question considering he started 26th. The first Belle Isle race deserves a mention, as he started fourth and lost some ground after running long on the alternate tire, but still finished ninth.

Jones did end strong with finishes of 11th, tenth and 12th in the final three races. It was the only period this season when he had three consecutive top 15 finishes.

What objectively was his worst race?
Jones was 28th in the Indianapolis 500 after starting 11th on the grid. He made his final pit stop on lap 198 and the gamble led him to finishing as the final car one lap down.
What subjectively was his worst race?
The biggest problem in Jones' season is he has too many events where he was anonymous, 20th from 21st on the grid at St. Petersburg, he was caught in Will Power's spin at Mid-Ohio and completed only three laps and he got into Graham Rahal after two laps at Gateway, taking both drivers out of the top ten. Road America was another missed opportunity after starting 12th in his first race with the same damper package as Grosjean, only for a suspension failure to eliminate Jones with five laps to go. 

It also didn't help Jones that he will most remembered for spinning Patricio O'Ward in the hairpin on the first lap of the Long Beach finale, effectively ending the championship battle right then and there.

Ed Jones' 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 19th (233 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 4
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 13.071
Average Finish: 16.438

Pietro Fittipaldi was back for oval races this season

Pietro Fittipaldi
With Grosjean not committing to the ovals at the start of the 2021 season, Dale Coyne Racing drafted in another Haas F1 driver. For the first time in three years, Fittipaldi, grandson of two-time World Drivers' Champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 Emerson Fittipaldi, was back in IndyCar. Coincidentally, it was Fittipaldi who replaced Grosjean in the final two races of the 2020 Formula One season.

What objectively was his best race?
Fittipaldi was 15th in the first Texas race, finishing on the lead lap. He was on the edge of the top ten for most of this race, but dropped back a few spots late. It was a good showing considering he had not been in an IndyCar since September 2018.

What subjectively was his best race?
Texas was his best day, but Fittipaldi's Indianapolis 500 debut deserves some attention. He qualified 13th, the fastest rookie qualifier. His race was not spectacular. He did not make the most of his starting position and lost ground throughout the race, but he took the checkered flag, albeit it a lap down in 25th.

What objectively was his worst race?
Strangely enough, it was the Indianapolis 500.
What subjectively was his worst race?
Fittipaldi was taken out in the start accident in the second Texas race and was classified in 21st with barely a lap started let alone an entire lap completed. It was sad not to see Fittipaldi more this year. With Grosjean running Gateway, Fittipaldi made one fewer start than anticipated and the team did not enter an extra car for him. It feels like Fittipaldi could be a strong full-time driver, and yet he constantly finds himself on the periphery of many series. 

Pietro Fittipaldi's 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 32nd (34 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0 
Average Start: 13th (Field set via entrants' point for both Texas races. Fittipaldi qualified 13th for the Indianapolis 500).
Average Finish: 20.333

Cody Ware started three races in 2021

Cody Ware
With Rick Ware Racing partnering with Dale Coyne Racing for the 2021 IndyCar season and the team's #51 Honda, Rick Ware's son got to compete in a few races in a third entry. The NASCAR experienced driver, who has an average finish of 32.8 in 52 Cup Series, did about how you would expect in an IndyCar.

What objectively was his best race?
Ware was 19th on debut at Road America. He also started 25th in that race. 

What subjectively was his best race?
Road America. Nothing like your first time. Ware didn't draw any attention to himself and kept the car on the track. Cautions might have kept him on the lead lap, but Ware did not put himself in trouble at any points.
What objectively was his worst race?
Ware was 25th in the August IMS road course race, two laps down and a little in the way.
What subjectively was his worst race?
When you are parked for being too slow, that is your worst race, and Ware was disqualified after 70 laps for being too slow at Nashville. The number of accidents allowed Ware to end up with a 20th-place classification, but he was slow in this race. Despite his pace, he got up to seventh during a pit cycle and then immediately spun in turn three after holding up the field.

Cody Ware's 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 34th (26 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0 
Average Start: 26.333
Average Finish: 21.333

Ryan Norman was a surprise debutant

Ryan Norman
After three years in Indy Lights, Norman has spent the last two seasons competing in IMSA's Michelin Pilot Challenge series. When an opportunity came for him to run at his home track of Mid-Ohio in Dale Coyne Racing's extra entry, Norman took it and made his IndyCar debut.

What objectively was his best race?
Norman was 20th, the first car, one lap down.

What subjectively was his best race?
While Norman was only 20th, he was ahead of Dalton Kellett and Jimmie Johnson. Norman also gained six spots on the day, moving up from a 26th starting position.
What objectively was his worst race?
Mid-Ohio was Norman's only start of the season. 
What subjectively was his worst race?
Running at Mid-Ohio meant Norman had to miss the Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Watkins Glen, but his car owner Bryan Herta encouraged Norman to run the IndyCar race. The only downside is by missing that race, Norman could no longer defend his TCR class championship. His co-driver Parker Chase is second in the championship entering the final round at Road America at the end of October.

Ryan Norman's 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 30th (10 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0 
Average Start: 26
Average Finish: 20

An Early Look Ahead
Dale Coyne Racing is coming off another stellar season and in turn it will be going through another shakeup. 

Grosjean has left for Andretti Autosport and he took engineer Olivier Boisson with him. At the same time, the Vasser/Sullivan partnership could be ending, as Vasser/Sullivan has already independently taken on the Lexus GT Daytona program in IMSA, it could be looking to do the same with its IndyCar team soon. 

The team expressed dissatisfaction with Jones' performance during the season. It was stated that Jones had a different damper program than Grosjean for the first half of the season and the two cars didn't have the same dampers until Road America. We did see Jones closer to equal with Grosjean as the season went on, but while Grosjean stood on the podium three times and had a pole position, Jones had three top ten finishes all season.

Grosjean made three fewer starts and scored 39 points without the benefit of a double points race. 

Coyne has a knack for finding drivers and getting cars to the front. The team lost Craig Hampson to Arrow McLaren SP and Michael Cannon to Ganassi and the team hasn't fallen off. Coyne can head in any direction it wants. In the last decade, it is more likely going to find two respectable drivers and overachieve. For a team with a history of shuffling drivers through its cars without much success and historically having TBA on entry lists, the last ten years has Coyne as more of an Oakland Athletics' Moneyball-esque team than a cellar dweller like the Seattle Mariners. The team finds away to compete rather than just take up space. 

The hope is Coyne will have a good rock to build its 2022 around, as Takuma Sato is linked to one of the seats. Sato might be turning 45 years old in January, and he might be coming off a season where he did not make it out of the first round of qualifying once on a road/street course and did not start in the top ten once, but he did have eight top ten finishes, falling just eight points outside the top ten in the championship. Sato is a great place to start and he will keep the team in the conversation most weekends.

While the team is going through another overhaul, I except Coyne to remain competitive. It is going to find two drivers who can get the job done, and if there is anything we have learned from the last two season with Coyne alone, there are plenty of drivers out there who can enter IndyCar and score results. Would a Sato-led Coyne team necessarily win races? No, but the organization should still be competing for top ten finishes on a regular basis and possibly challenge for a top five finish here or there.

The biggest concerns is if Coyne keeps the partnerships going for another season. Rick Ware Racing might not be a multi-year thing. Vasser/Sullivan could leave this year and bring more uncertainty. The Coyne-Vasser/Sullivan pairing has been together five years and it has yielded great success with multiple drivers. That breakup could set Coyne back. We need to find out sooner rather than later who Coyne will be working with. Once we know that we will have a better idea what to expect for the team in 2022.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Meyer Shank Racing's 2021 Season

The third IndyCar Wrap-Up brings us to one of IndyCar's newest and fastest rising organizations. Meyer Shank Racing competed in its second full season in 2021, and a second full season brought a slight expansion to the operation. With one full-time car, MSR ran a second car in a half-dozen races. Meyer Shank Racing achieved another incredible milestone, and yet, 2021 felt like it could have been better.

Jack Harvey bounced between good days and bad days

Jack Harvey
Harvey began his second full IndyCar season and fifth season overall with Meyer Shank Racing. After a split season with strong qualifying results but race results that did not always match in 2020, Harvey looked to make a leap forward. Though he continued to have good races, this season did not standout as a clear improvement.

What objectively was his best race?
Harvey was fourth at St. Petersburg after starting on the front row. He struggled on the alternate tire and that cost him a few spots, but he still pulled out a fabulous result. Harvey then finished fourth at Portland after starting 20th. He drove a superb race and going long on his first stint set Harvey up to run hard in the closing laps and get up to fourth. 

What subjectively was his best race?
Though Harvey did not have nearly as many strong results as he should have, I will say it is Portland because that weekend started well in practice, he then qualified 20th and it looked like he was doomed for another disappointing race and then he was quick in the race and matched his best finish of the season. 

The second IMS road course race deserves a mention because that ended an eight-race slump where Harvey's best finish was 15th. At Indianapolis, Harvey was sixth. 

What objectively was his worst race?
Twenty-third in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis after a botched pit stop took him out of contention for a podium spot, and possibly a race victory, and a tire puncture exiting pit lane took away any chance of a respectable result and left him a lap down.
What subjectively was his worst race?
Unfortunately, for the second consecutive season, Harvey's season is full of too many results that do not add up to the pace we saw and some of these were self-inflicted. 

The team tossed away a top ten finish at Road America trying to go off-strategy at a terrible point in the race prior to a pit window opening where there was no way Harvey was going to save enough and get a better result than if he had waited. What should have been a sixth or seventh was a 17th. The team employed a similar strategy at Nashville. See how wacky that race was, Harvey could have won it, but his strategy choices, and the oddly shaped pit lane, trapped him in 15th. 

One that was not on the teams the second Texas race when a wheel bearing broke and ended a possible top five run. 

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis is probably his worst result. He was up there with Romain Grosjean, Álex Palou and Rinus VeeKay. He could have won that race, if not it looked like he was set for a podium result.

Jack Harvey's 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 13th (308 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 6
Laps Led: 6
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 6
Average Start: 13.714
Average Finish: 13.0

Hélio Castroneves turned a new, part-time gig into something historic

Hélio Castroneves
Meyer Shank Racing rolled the dice on Castroneves, newly released from Team Penske, and it paid off with Meyer Shank Racing winning the biggest race on the IndyCar calendar, the team's first victory in the series and a historic victory for Castroneves to boot. This pairing ran six races in 2020 and it will expand to a full-time operation in 2021, but their first race together might be the mountaintop for this duo.

What objectively was his best race?
Come on? What do you think? It is Castroneves' fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. 

What subjectively was his best race?
Expanding on the Indianapolis 500 victory, for starters, it was Castroneves' first race with the team. It was Meyer Shank Racing's first victory. Castroneves was in the top ten all race. This was not Castroneves pulling a rabbit out of his hat and he just happened to be first after stretching his fuel while others had to stop. This wasn't Castroneves leading at the right time when a rainstorm blew in. Castroneves won this race straight up after spending the previous three years committed to sports car racing while IndyCar was his side project. 

What objectively was his worst race?
Castroneves was nowhere to be found at Laguna Seca and he finished a lap down in 24th.  

What subjectively was his worst race?
Castroneves has some work to do on road and street courses. He may have been ninth at Nashville, but he was 21st in the second IMS road course race, 23rd at Portland and 24th at Laguna Seca. Castroneves did qualify third at Long Beach and he might have finished in the top ten if the team had not chosen poor on the pit strategy, failing to have him pit before the Patricio O'Ward caution and then not stopping under that caution nor the Marcus Ericsson caution only a few laps later. This comeback season is going to be tougher than many think it will be. 

Hélio Castroneves' 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 22nd (158 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 2
Laps Led: 35
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 14.667 
Average Finish: 16.333

An Early Look Ahead
With Harvey leaving the team, Simon Pagenaud will join his former Team Penske cohort Castroneves in the Meyer Shank Racing lineup in 2022. 

Harvey built a good identity with the team and it felt like the partnership was going to continue for many years to come. However, I think one of the reasons results were lacking is the team itself and that is one reason why Harvey left. 

There were a handful of races in 2021 where the team got the strategy wrong, either bringing Harvey in too early or having him stay out too long. Harvey's qualifying results did dip from an average around 8.8 to 13.714. However, his average finish only fell from 12.2 to 13.0, which wasn't great to begin with, but wasn't terrible either. There were strategy choices that cost him top ten and possibly top five finishes at Road America and Nashville. 

Pagenaud moves over after a rough two-year period with Team Penske. His qualifying average has fallen tremendously, dropping to a career worst 15.9 in 2020, but he picked it up to 11.0 this year. While the Frenchman saw a tick up on the qualifying speed, his race finishes dipped. Two podium finishes matched his fewest in a season, his three top five finishes are his fewest in a season and he led only 12 laps, his fewest in a full season. Pagenaud was eighth in the championship for the second consecutive year.

Meanwhile, Castroneves might have won the Indianapolis 500 and finished ninth at Nashville, but he was 20th or worse in his final four starts. He started outside the top ten in three of those races with a surprising third-place qualifying result at Long Beach appearing to be more of an exception than the rule. Castroneves has made 13 IndyCar starts since his last full season in 2017. He has three top ten finishes and six finishes outside the top twenty. 

When Castroneves first exited IndyCar full-time, he was on a streak of six consecutive top five championship finishes and nine top five championship finishes in his last ten seasons. He will turn 47 years old on May 10 next year. I am not sure how much MSR can expect out of Castroneves and how long they will be committed to him. 

I think Pagenaud still has something in the tank, a lot in the tank actually, and while his results were not great in 2021, he is a competitive driver who is regularly in the top ten. Pagenaud could turn MSR into a regular contender and pull out a few victories. I just don't feel as good about Castroneves. He might have a few good days but I don't think Castroneves will be close to the Frenchman. I think we could see the two MSR drivers at different ends of the table at the end of 2022.

More than the drivers, what could decide MSR's success is its strategizing. It cannot continue to take front-running cars and put them at the back. The team was taking chances as if it was a mid-pack team, but its speed has it at the front. It cannot be running in the top five or six and act like it is running 13th and has to try something different. There are times to go off-strategy and take a risk, but it has to do a better job discerning when to roll the dice and when to stick to the plan. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Musings From the Weekend: Extra Support

Formula One released a busy calendar. Formula Two is saving money by expanding its schedule to 14-race weekends and 28 races. The Bathurst 12 Hours is now taking into consideration its scheduling conflict with the 12 Hours of Sebring weekend. The Alpine LMP1 car has been grandfathered for another season. Indianapolis had a healthy endurance race. Tony Stewart expanded his portfolio into drag racing. Formula E came up with a new qualifying format and it is still too much. Josef Newgarden and Álex Palou tested some tires. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Extra Support
IndyCar's unexpected season finale at Long Beach turned into a jolt for the series. With the championship on the line, one of IndyCar's most famed and best attended races took on a different role. Instead of being an early Spring, early season highlight, Long Beach turned in a title decider where moments became even more memorable with each pass, spin and pit stop receiving greater attention. 

With a healthy crowd and a good race, many left Long Beach asking why it couldn't be the IndyCar season finale moving forward. For now, Long Beach plans to return to its mid-April date in 2022. Some suggested two trips to Long Beach, one in April and another as the finale. Though it worked as an early Autumn close to the season, the reaction after Long Beach in 2021 resembled how people felt after the 12 Hours of Sebring closed the 2020 IMSA season. 

Many people were asking why Sebring couldn't move from March to late October or November and become the permanent end of the IMSA season. I felt many were getting caught in the moment last November. It was a great championship battle paired with a historic event, but those people also ignored the IMSA season normally ends with a great championship battle at another endurance race, Petit Le Mans. 

Last year, Sebring ended the season out of necessity due to the pandemic. There is also nothing wrong with Sebring's mid-March date, a time when many folks take off for spring break anyway. In the rush of a November night, sports car's contingent lost sight of the bigger picture and how some things only work as a one-off. 

Long Beach became the IndyCar season finale out of necessity due to the pandemic. After being unable to find a place on any of the amended 2020 schedules, and with a slight delay to the 2021 season due to crowd restrictions and waiting for greater vaccine distribution, Long Beach could not afford being not held for two consecutive years. IndyCar was willing to place it at the end of the season in September and the city complied. 

IndyCar had a different season finale than its normal schedules, and the biggest difference with Long Beach was the IndyCar finale felt like an event for the first time in a longtime. Long Beach always has a great crowd, and while 2021 might have been lower than a normal April Long Beach race due to it being held at a different time of the year and some crowd restrictions, it was still one of IndyCar's best attended races of the season and one of its better attended season finales in the last 15 years. 

There has never been one great season finale for IndyCar, at least not since The Split. Laguna Seca had great crowds in the 1990s when CART crowned its champions there, but when Laguna Seca returned to the schedule as the season finale in 2019, that crowd was a fraction of those previous finales. The Sonoma finales from 2015-2018 were not that spectacular. Fontana had good crowds compared to other finales, with 2013 likely the best when the race was held in October, but the lack of a consistent weekend kept Fontana from flourishing and developing into an event like it was the CART finale in the late 1990s. 

Las Vegas did not draw nearly as many people as IndyCar had hoped when it went all-in on the 2011 season finale. Homestead had two lousy years before that and Chicagoland hosted the finale for three consecutive years from 2006-2008, each on the first Sunday of the NFL season. Those were good crowds, but two occurred during the final years of The Split. The crowds weren't bad, but it was a different time for IndyCar. The series didn't have the same momentum it has now. 

I think the last good finale IndyCar held was the 2004 IRL season at Texas. But again, that was a different time. That Texas race had at least 60,000 if not 70,000 people in attendance... for an IndyCar race... on an NFL Sunday... in the middle of October... and the championship was already decided! Tony Kanaan clinched the championship two weeks earlier at Fontana! 

In 2021, IndyCar could have a finale with the top nine drivers tied on points, hold it at Texas and it could be the only sporting event going on at 3:00 p.m. Eastern next Sunday afternoon and I don't think 7,000 people would show up let alone possibly 70,000 people! Times have changed and we took for granted what we had even during The Split. 

IndyCar has been trying to have its destination finale ever since reunification and nothing has worked. Next season will end on the first NFL Sunday at Laguna Seca. Looking at all the ingredients, it is not a recipe for success, and we will probably see Laguna Seca's high school football-sized grandstands a quarter-full when IndyCar awards its championship. 

What can be done? How can IndyCar have a finale that feels like an event? The answer might be for IndyCar not to be the headliner but a supporting act. 

After how the last two years have shaken up the calendars and IndyCar has lost tracks since the pandemic started. One of those is Austin, and I have brought it up before and I will bring it up again, IndyCar should race during Formula One's United States Grand Prix weekend. Saturday of the United States Grand Prix weekend draws around 80,000 people in attendance. The only current IndyCar race drawing 80,000 people is the Indianapolis 500. 

In terms of exposure, it is the best thing IndyCar could ask for. It would be a large crowd with a large media contingent already at the racetrack. Formula One and IndyCar continue to be closer than ever before with McLaren having a presence in both series, Andretti Autosport perhaps on the verge of having a presence in both series. Alpine might be funding an IndyCar seat next year for one of its academy drivers. Romain Grosjean is in IndyCar. Patricio O'Ward will be testing a Formula One car. Formula One and Liberty Media doesn't need IndyCar, but IndyCar needs Formula One and piggy-backing on the series when it comes to the United States would be a smart thing to do. It would also bring IndyCar back to Austin, a great racetrack. 

Add to it, IndyCar should follow Formula One to Mexico as well and run Saturday of the Mexican Grand Prix weekend. Mexico City has just as big a crowd if not bigger on its Saturday than Austin. It would also be a great chance for the series to show off O'Ward to the home crowd. 

IndyCar must take a chance on something, and I mean something greater than one race on Peacock or a doubleheader at Iowa. It cannot constantly hope small wagers will reap big rewards. It must aim high and put itself out there. Hoping for its own Drive to Survive knockoff is not going to do the trick. IndyCar is confident about what it puts on the racetrack, then put it on a grand stage. 

Don't worry about the speed difference compared to a Formula One car. Don't worry about the technologic differences either. Go put on a strong race in front of a large crowd. Go to two major, international sporting events and showcase yourself to people who either don't know IndyCar exists or otherwise overlook it. 

Ending the season with Formula One is the best trick. It increases IndyCar's exposure and IndyCar will be racing at full racetracks. It extends the IndyCar season deep into October, which is better than ending on the second Sunday of September. It would be a great one-two combination to end the championship with. Not only would IndyCar get to show off its product on track, but it would get to include the championship drama. It would give those new to IndyCar the key names to follow. 

Imagine if O'Ward was fighting for the championship heading to the finale on the Saturday afternoon of the Mexican Grand Prix weekend. Now imagine if he won the whole damn thing. That would be a scene IndyCar cannot even fathom, and it would be the greatest promotional tool the series could ask for. Think about the celebration Hélio Castroneves had on the front straightaway after his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. IndyCar would have a second chance at those scenes if the finale was at a place with a respectable crowd. 

IndyCar has a great slate of races, but when it comes to closing a season, for nearly 20 years it has fallen flat providing a finale to match the quality of the series. Instead of trying to put on its own show, IndyCar would be better off tagging along to the bigger circus coming to town. It would finally get to show its act off to the masses and could leave the tent with many more followers than it had when it was on its own.

Champions From the Weekend
Tomoki Nojiri clinched the Super Formula championship with a fifth-place finish at Motegi, one race early.

Dominique Aegerter clinched the World Supersport championship with finishes of third and fifth in Argentina

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Tomoki Nojiri and Dominique Aegerter, but did you know...

The #25 Audi Sport Tream Saintéloc Audi of Christopher Haase, Patric Niederhauser and Markus Winkelhock won the Indianapolis 8 Hours. The #36 BimmerWorld BMW of Bill Auberlen, Chandler Hull and James Clay won in the GT4 class.

The #35 Conquest Racing West Mercedes-AMG of Collin Mullan and Michai Stephens swept the GT4 America races from Indianapolis and the team has won four consecutive races. Brendan Iribe swept the GT America races.

Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup race from Texas, his eighth victory of the season. John Hunter Nemechek won the Grand National Series race, his first victory in the series since October 2018.

Hiroki Otsu won the Super Formula race from Motegi, his first career victory. 

Toprak Razgatlioglu won the first two World Superbike races from Argentina with Scott Redding winning the third. Jules Cluzel swept the World Supersport races. 

Frédéric Vervisch and Jean-Karl Vernay split the World Touring Car Cup races from Circuit Pau-Arnos. 

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

Coming Up This Weekend
The United States Grand Prix returns to the Formula One calendar.
MotoGP makes its second trip to Misano. 
Portimão plays host to the European Le Mans Series finale. 
NASCAR has its antepenultimate weekend at Kansas. 
Super GT is at Autopolis.

Friday, October 15, 2021

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Carlin's 2021 Season

Our second IndyCar Wrap-Up moves us to Carlin, the only full-time single-car team in 2021. Carlin made no changes to its driver combination from 2020. After remarkable oval pace last season, 2021 did not see the same bountiful points days. Things did not improve much on the road and street courses either. But one drought did end within the organization. 

Max Chilton found a bright spot in another difficult season

Max Chilton
Chilton was back to compete in only the road and street courses and Indianapolis for the third consecutive season. Chilton had finished 22nd in the championship the previous two years as a regular but non-full-time driver. He entered 2021 without a top ten finish in his last 39 starts. 

What objectively was his best race?
Chilton got a top ten! Tenth at Road America! His first top ten finish since Watkins Glen 2017! His first top ten with Carlin!

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Road America! Chilton went off-strategy and it was risky one to make, but hard-charging and needing a splash of fuel late lifted him into the top ten. It also netted him seven laps led. 

What objectively was his worst race?
Twice Chilton finished 24th, first was at St. Petersburg when a hydraulics issue knocked him out after 18 laps. The other was the Indianapolis 500 where Chilton was just 24th. That was the best he was going to do.

What subjectively was his worst race?
How about the one he didn't run? He missed the Grand Prix of Indianapolis due to visa issues preventing him from returning to the country from the United Kingdom. What made that worse is Carlin didn't even fill the car, which might have made sense at the time if you looked at it as cost saved, but the team forfeited valuable entrant points. I don't know if any driver thrown in last second would have pulled out a top ten result, but someone could have pulled out a 16th or 17th and gotten the team something greater than zero. 

Max Chilton's 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 25th (134 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led: 7
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 18.833
Average Finish: 19.417

2021 was not as good as 2020 for Conor Daly at Carlin

Conor Daly
Returning as the Carlin oval specialist, Daly drove the Texas doubleheader and Iowa for the team while splitting the rest of the season with Ed Carpenter Racing and running a third ECR car at Indianapolis. Daly won a pole position in 2020 driving for Carlin and he had four top ten finishes with the team.

What objectively was his best race?
Gateway. He went from 20th to 11th, mostly by avoiding the accidents, but it was a respectable night, though he just couldn't get into the top ten.

What subjectively was his best race?
Like I said, Gateway, though it had its flaws.

What objectively was his worst race?
Daly was caught in the opening lap accident at Texas, rolled over, and was classified where he started in 24th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
The issue with Daly's Carlin program is it is only three races and nothing substantial can be taken from it. It is hard to celebrate the positives or worry about the negatives. You can have three fluky races and think you are on top of the world (*cough* Harding Racing *cough*) or you could have Daly's three events with Carlin, which doesn't really tell us much. Not to mention he was set up from behind at Texas because both races were set via entrants' points after qualifying was rained out. 

If there is one disappointing thing about Daly's races is he never really showed that same pace as 2020. I don't know if it was Daly's lack of time with the team or another reason. He had one practice session at Texas, and Gateway was a one-day show with practice in the middle of the afternoon for a night race. There was hope that Daly and Carlin could rework their short track magic at Gateway. Instead, Daly qualified 20th, and 11th is a little flattering. If half those accidents do not happen, I am not sure Daly cracks the top fifteen. 

Conor Daly's 2021 Statistics with Carlin
Championship Position: 18th (34 of Daly's 235 points came with Carlin)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 20.0 (Field was set via entrants' points for both Texas race. Daly qualified 20th at Gateway)
Average Finish: 18.667

An Early Look Ahead
Carlin is the team we know the least about heading into 2022. 

Will Chilton return? 

Will it remain a single-car?

Does it expand? 

Will it still be Chilton and Daly? 

How does Daly's future at Ed Carpenter Racing play into this? 

Through four IndyCar seasons, Carlin has yet to get on a podium let alone win a race. Its only top five finish was in its 12th race at Toronto in 2018 with Charlie Kimball. It had one top ten finish this season. It had four top ten finishes in the two previous seasons and it had six top ten finishes in 2018, all with Kimball.

The team has shown speed. Kimball did fine. Patricio O'Ward had a few strong performances when he stepped into that car in 2019 and we saw what Daly was able to do with this team on ovals. Carlin lacks a leader and it really cannot be a single-car team in its current situation. It either needs to commit to one car with one driver or expand to two cars if Chilton is going to run all the road/street courses and Indianapolis. 

It has been four years. Chilton is not the driver who can build the team. Carlin has a goldmine of drivers in its rolodex. It should be able to pluck one out and immediately be significantly more competitive. Chilton did get out of the first round of qualifying twice in 2021. The speed isn't completely absent. 

But does the team have funding to get to two cars? Chilton has said the teams need two cars to be competitive. That will likely require a driver with a check. The good news for Carlin is it has name recognition in Europe and there are a bunch of European-based drivers who are looking to IndyCar. Trevor Carlin praised Formula Two race winner Dan Ticktum and said Ticktum would be a great IndyCar driver. Ticktum has said he is looking to IndyCar. 

A few Indy Lights drivers have also been linked to Carlin. 

This is a key moment for Carlin's long-term commitment to IndyCar. It could get a driver now to build around for the next three seasons. We saw many drivers step into an IndyCar for the first time in 2021 and look incredibly competitive. Romain Grosjean nearly won a few races. Kevin Magnussen looked strong. Christian Lundgaard was right at home on debut. Marcus Ericsson rounded into a race winner this season. Three of the top five in the championship are under the age of 25 and all three of those drivers won multiple races. 

Carlin could become an IndyCar contender, but it has to decide why it is IndyCar. Does it want to be competing in North America's top open-wheel series and have a global reach beyond the junior series in Europe or is it just a place for Max Chilton, son of team CEO Grahame Chilton, to remain employed? The team can run in IndyCar and be successful without Chilton. Is the Carlin front office willing to accept that?

The talent is out there and if Carlin finds its gem it could start to have greater success. If it doesn't and leaves the series, it will be a missed opportunity for the team and IndyCar. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

IndyCar Wrap-Up: A.J. Foyt Racing's 2021 Season

A few weeks have passed since the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded on the streets of Long Beach and this is our chance to go through each IndyCar team and review the season for each organization. Our first IndyCar Wrap-Up begins at the very back of the grid and A.J. Foyt Racing. The team brought in a former champion and promoted a part-time driver to full-time for 2021. The team ended 2020 on a good note and hoped to carry that momentum into a new season. 

A great turnaround did not come for Foyt with Sébastien Bourdais

Sébastien Bourdais
After running only the final three races of 2020, Bourdais returned to full-time competition in the famed #14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Much hope was put in the four-time champion to lift IndyCar's historic doormat. It began pleasantly but immediately fell apart in Foyt's backyard. There were a few more bright spots, but not nearly as many as were first thought as possible. 

What objectively was his best race?
Twice did Bourdais finish in fifth-place, first at Barber and then at Gateway.

What subjectively was his best race?
I have to say it is Barber because Bourdais switched to a three-stop strategy and ran hard for the final 79 laps. It lifted him from outside the top fifteen into the top ten and it got him into the top five. For a moment, it looked like he might have a shot at a podium spot. 

Gateway was a good night, but he got to the front going off-strategy and having a timely caution late shuffle him into the top five. Gateway was likely going to be a top ten result aided through some good fortune and it was boosted with one caution. 

Lond Beach deserves a mention because he stalled at the end of lap one to bring out a caution and then fought his way from 28th to eighth at the end of the race.

What objectively was his worst race?
Nashville, where Bourdais was infamously run over from behind. Marcus Ericsson knocked Bourdais out of the race after only five laps and finished 27th. Ericsson went on to win the race.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Bourdais was run over three times this season, both Texas races and Nashville. I will say the first Texas race is the worst because that happened right before his first pit stop and he was in the top ten before Josef Newgarden got into Bourdais. 

Before that race, Bourdais had finished in the top ten of the first two races. That contact would start a ten-race drought without a top ten finish. He was run out the next day at the start! If that contact with Newgarden doesn't happen, we cannot say for certain Bourdais' season would be much better, but he would have finished better than 24th in the first Texas race, possibly gotten a top ten, but let's just say 13th. That moves him up a few more spots on the grid for race two and he could have avoided the start crash and had another good day. Momentum would have been on his side and his summer would not have been as difficult. 

Sébastien Bourdais' 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 16th (258 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 22
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 5 
Average Start: 15.5
Average Finish: 15.25

Dalton Kellett was regular fighting from behind in 2021

Dalton Kellett
Kellett was part-time last year in Foyt's #14 Chevrolet and this year he took over the #4 Chevrolet full-time. For a driver who never won in 128 Road to Indy starts and only had eight podium finishes in those 128 starts, Kellett's first full IndyCar season went exactly as expected.

What objectively was his best race?
Kellett ended up 12th at Gateway, race where he spent a good portion in the top ten before falling out of the top ten late.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Gateway. Kellett benefitted from a rash of cautions at the start that took out many of the front-runners, but he had to earn that top ten spot for most of the night. A few teams were not as good as him on this night. Kellett did make a questionable chop on Romain Grosjean into turn three. No contact was made, but Kellett's wonderful night nearly was snuffed out at his own inability.

What objectively was his worst race?
He was 26th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, four laps down. It was so bad he finished behind Cody Ware. Kellett was also 26th at Portland after a mechanical issue stopped him on track.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is hard to look at a four-lap down performance behind a dismal NASCAR Cup Series driver cosplaying as an IndyCar driver because his father has a perplexing amount of money that he burns on multiple different forms of motorsports and find any positives. 

Dalton Kellett's 2021 Statistics
Championship Position: 23rd (148 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 24.429
Average Finish: 21.313

An Early Look Ahead
Another offseason is upon us, and A.J. Foyt Racing is again forced to shake things up. 

Bourdais will not be back full-time, but one thought is he could run a significant number of the races. The word is Bourdais will be full-time with Chip Ganassi Racing's sports car program and there are five direct IMSA/IndyCar conflicts. Sebring and Texas are the same weekend and if Bourdais isn't full-time, I don't think he is going to waste his time flying to Texas when it will not be his full-time job. 

Laguna Seca and Barber are the same day. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis is the day before the IMSA race at Mid-Ohio. IMSA is at Mosport the same day IndyCar is at Mid-Ohio. IMSA will be at Road America the same day IndyCar races on the streets of Nashville. 

Not only does it sound like Bourdais will be part-time but 2022 could be his final year in an IndyCar. 

Who would fill-in for the five or six races Bourdais could miss? Super Formula and sports car driver Tatiana Calderón tested for Foyt this summer at Mid-Ohio and Calderón is a RoKIT-sponsored driver. This season was RoKIT's first in IndyCar. 

Calderón did run in Star Mazda with Juncos Racing in 2010 and 2011, finishing tenth and sixth in the championship in those respective seasons. She had podium finishes at Barber and Mosport along with a fifth at Iowa. She scored points in Formula Three and has had a few good races in Super Formula, but I don't think she is ready for an IndyCar. She should really spend a year in Indy Lights.

To put Foyt in a more precarious position, Bourdais could be done with IndyCar already and not return in 2022. If that is the case, the team will either bite the bullet and run Calderón full-time or find another driver to pair with her. 

Foyt is in greater limbo than it ever has been before and with all signs pointing to Kellett remaining a full-time driver, I think it is borderline irresponsible to put Calderón in a car. If Bourdais was going to be Calderón's full-time teammate then I would feel more comfortable, but pairing Kellett and Calderón is combining an unexperienced IndyCar driver with the least talented IndyCar driver. That is not a recipe for success. 

The team doesn't really have a choice now. Since ABC Supply Co. left as the team's sponsor after the 2019 season, it must keep the lights on and take what it can get. Unfortunately, the team has been abysmal for years and respectable drivers with money will skip over Foyt knowing they are better off lighting a couple million dollars on fire than driving for the team. 

Think about some of Foyt's recent drivers:

Jack Hawksworth lost his ride after 2016 and went to sports cars. He has not been in an IndyCar since. 

Carlos Muñoz lost his ride after 2017, made three more IndyCar starts the following year and hasn't been seen since.

Conor Daly lost his ride after 2017 and he was not full-time again until last year. 

Matheus Leist lost his ride after 2019 and no one else in IndyCar touched him.

Charlie Kimball lost his ride after 2020 and then appeared in three race weekends for the team in 2021.

Takuma Sato might have moved onto to something better and Tony Kanaan might have become the oval driver in Chip Ganassi Racing's #48 Honda this year, but history suggests A.J. Foyt Racing is not a launching pad for an IndyCar career. It is a grave.

This is how we get Kellett, a driver whose best Road to Indy championship finishes were seventh in Indy Lights seasons that had seven full-time cars and eight full-time cars. Kellett had the worst average finish among series regulars and the worst average starting position among series regulars in 2021.

Foyt has tried so many different things and nothing has worked. It wasted ABC Supply Co. title sponsorship for over a decade while other competitive teams struggled for funding. It switched engine manufactures and in five seasons with Chevrolet it has one podium finish and six top five finishes. In the last ten seasons, only twice has Foyt had a driver finish in the top fifteen in the championship and regularly during that time IndyCar had fewer than 24 full-time drivers. 

We all want Foyt to be better and just be remotely competitive. I don't see how it gets better in 2022. I don't see how this round of changes will be the answer. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Musings From the Weekend: Reverse It

Red Bull wore white after Labor Day, but it was Valtteri Bottas on top at the Turkish Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton was upset about his strategy. Formula One lost its Medical Car team for the weekend due to COVID cases. The Norisring hosts its first event in over 27 months and there was a controversial and incredible championship comeback. Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson ran laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. There was also a Firestone tire test at the Speedway. Alpine confirmed an LMDh program for 2024. Jacques Villeneuve is going to test a NASCAR Cup car. Andretti Autosport could be on the verge of taking over Sauber. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Reverse It
Another Indy Lights season ended last weekend and looking at the numbers it was a top-heavy season. 

Champion Kyle Kirkwood won ten races. Runner-up David Malukas won seven races. Third in the championship, Linus Lundqvist, won three races. The rest of the grid combined for zero victories.

It is the fewest race winners in an Indy Lights season since 1995 when Greg Moore won ten races and Robbie Buhl and Pedro Chaves each won once in a 12-race season. But the number of winners was not the number of the most concern. In 20 races, there were a grand total of 11 official lead changes and there were zero lead changes through the first seven races. 

Three of those lead changes are erroneous as they were times when the pole-sitter did not lead the opening lap, but for some reason in the United States we count that as a lead change. Think about how absurd that is. David Malukas led every lap in the second Road America race and yet a lead change is marked down because Malukas started second. There were really eight lead changes in Indy Lights over a 20-race season. That is an average of 0.4 lead changes per race. 

I don't have a problem with only three drivers winning all the races. All credit to Kirkwood, Malukas and Lundqvist. They combined to lead 678 of 682 laps all season. Shout out to Benjamin Pedersen (one lap), Danial Frost (one lap) and Toby Sowery (two laps) for leading the rest. But I think this shows a small problem with Indy Lights and it could be one of the things holding the series back. 

Indy Lights does not have pit stops in its races. The longest race was 85 miles in 2021 with the shortest at 59 miles. These are sprint races that take no longer than 45 minutes to complete and for each race the field is set via a qualifying session. That sounds great and it is fair for everyone, but what we end up getting is the top drivers always starting at the front and less competition, especially as the leaders get the advantage of clean air while the rest of the pack has to cut through the turbulence, slowing them down and allowing the leaders to run away.
Thirteen of 20 races were won from pole position and 16 races were won from the front row. It is a series that only had 11-13 cars in each race. It is unlikely a car is going to win from ninth, but Indy Lights has its own agency to make the series a little more competitive. 

While Indy Lights is a development series, it is the series right below IndyCar. This is no longer a bunch of drivers trying to learn what it is like to drive a race car. These are drivers on the cusp of high-level motorsports, some are already competing in high-level motorsports, such as the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship and European Le Mans Series. 

Like many other ladder series around the world, Indy Lights runs doubleheaders each weekend. Most other ladder series around the world invert part of the grid for one of the races. Indy Lights does not as it runs separate qualifying sessions for each race. 

With barely a dozen entries, Indy Lights has more to gain than lose from introducing an inversion to its race weekends. For starters, it might keep drivers on the grid. It does not look good when drivers leave Indy Lights midseason because they are no longer in contention for the championship. It is not a good thing when Toby Sowery, a previous Indy Lights race winner, and Alex Peroni, a respectable driver who moved over from Europe this season, both leave the championship early. It is even worse because unlike Formula Two or Formula Three where a team will fill a seat, in Indy Lights, a team will be just as happy not to run a car than not run one. Juncos Racing did fill the Sowery vacancy, but Carlin did not replace Peroni. 

There is a correct way to introduce an inversion. Indy Lights has so few entries I would be ok with flipping the entire field. It would be risky with the likes of Christian Bogle and Antonio Serravalle leading the field, but Indy Lights has to do something different. It could have a different points system for the second race, award points for most positions made up and just be something different after doing basically the same thing forever. 

Inversion would also give drivers who are normally at the front a chance to pass cars. Indy Lights drivers are not going to enter IndyCar and immediately qualify on the front row each week. It is more likely they will be starting between tenth and 20th every weekend. If they are going to be passing cars in IndyCar, they mind as well get some practice in Indy Lights.

More importantly, an inversion might give people a reason to tune into both races. In the current format, it is easy to see why people might bypass an Indy Lights race weekend. If Indy Lights inverted the field or at least inverted the top eight, it would give people a different race than the first one and people would tune in to see how the top finishers from race one do making it through the field in race two. 

Again, Indy Lights might be a development series, but there is a reason why those races are broadcasted on Peacock, and the likes of Indy Pro 2000 and U.S. F2000 are not. Indy Lights needs viewers. Viewers bring in sponsors. Sponsors pay the bills for race cars. Race cars are a good thing for a racing series.

This would not be a crazy thing for the drivers. Again, Indy Lights is the step below IndyCar. If the drivers in Formula Two and Formula Three can handle it, the drivers in Indy Lights should not have a problem either, especially when many of these drivers have already experienced it in Europe. Indy Lights is not a little kid series. Some of these drivers might be teenagers, but they have spent years in race cars. Though not in the top division, they are professionals. They spend their every waking moment training to be in a race car. Facing added difficult on the racetrack will only be good for their development. 

Penske has brought Indy Lights back under the IndyCar umbrella after Andersen Promotions ran it for eight years. There will be some changes with new management. Hopefully, Penske sees that Indy Lights needs to do something on the racetrack to increase competition. An increase in competition is once again a good thing for a racing series. 

Champions From the Weekend

Maximilian Götz clinched the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship after sweeping the races from the Norisring.

The #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Cô Ledomegar and Nicklas Nielsen clinched the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup with a seventh-place finish at Barcelona.

The #23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin of Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn won the IMSA WeatherTeach GT Daytona Sprint Cup championship. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Valtteri Bottas and Maximilian Götz, but did you know...

Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup race from Charlotte, his seventh victory of the season. A.J. Allmendinger won the Grand National Series race, his fifth victory of the season.

The #4 Corvette of Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner won the IMSA race from Virginia International Raceway, the team's third consecutive victory. The #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor and Zacharie Robichon won in the GT Daytona class, the team's fourth victory of the season.

The #88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG of Felipe Fraga, Jules Gounon and Raffaele Marciello won the 3 Hours of Barcelona.

Néstor Girolami and Norbert Michelisz split the World Touring Car Cup races from Most.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Super Formula season has its penultimate race at Motegi. 
The Intercontinental GT Challenge returns for the third Indianapolis 8 Hours.
NASCAR begins its semifinal round in Texas.
World Rally Championship runs its penultimate round with Rally Catalunya
World Superbike is apparently going to Argentina. 
World Touring Car Cup will race in Pau, but not that Pau, Circuit Pau-Arnos to be specific.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Let's Look at the League: October 2021

The final three IndyCar races decided the Astor Cup and it was Álex Palou hoisting the silver cup after the final checkered flag at Long Beach, but the final three races had some bearing behind the real world. 

Prior to Portland, we looked at the fictional league format for IndyCar, and Portland was the start of the playoffs. In the top league, the top eight team were competing for the championship. Meanwhile, four teams were fighting to stay in the top league and four teams from league two were fighting for promotion. How did things play out? We will start with the overall championship. 

#5 AMSP def. #51 Coyne (14 to 22)
#30 RLLR def. #12 Penske (12 to 13)
#9 Ganassi def. #15 RLLR (3 to 10)
#2 Penske def. #22 Penske (5 to 21)

The first corner incident really decided half of this bracket. With Romain Grosjean and Will Power caught in accident at the start, it made it quite easy for Patricio O'Ward and Takuma Sato to take the victory. Sato did face quite a test because Power never fell off the lead lap, he just had to fight from behind and Sato held on by a position.

When Dixon was shuffled backward due to cutting the chicane, Graham Rahal was in the clear and led much of the race, but a mid-race caution and a split between two-stop and three-stop strategies torpedoed Rahal's strategy and unable to run the same pace as the three-stoppers, Rahal fell from the top spot. Dixon jumped ahead and took the victory. 

Josef Newgarden was in a battle with Simon Pagenaud as both moved up the order, but when Pagenaud was spun from contact with teammate Will Power, all Newgarden had to do was keep the car on the road and Newgarden did that to advance. 

#5 AMSP def. #30 RLLR (5 to 27)
#2 Penske def. #9 Ganassi (7 to 13)

Both these semifinals were closer than they appeared, and both these semifinals intersected one another. Sato was on a four-stop strategy, and he was in the top ten until he spun in the Corkscrew. Who did Sato collect in that spin? Scott Dixon!

Sato was out of it. Dixon was knocked back. O'Ward won with ease. Newgarden was arguably gifted a victory.

#2 Penske def. #5 AMSP (2 to 27)

The championship was decided on the first lap. Ed Jones ran into the back of O'Ward in the hairpin at Long Beach. O'Ward was knocked out of the top ten and subsequent mechanical issues effectively ended his race. Newgarden kept running and for the third consecutive year, in three years of this competition, Josef Newgarden has won the head-to-head championship!

Relegation Bracket Semifinals
#28 Andretti def. #29 Andretti (15 to 27. #28 Andretti stays in League One)
#10 Ganassi def. #18 Coyne (1 to 11. #10 Ganassi stays in League One)

James Hinchcliffe was taken out in the start accident, making it a virtual walkover for Ryan Hunter-Reay. 

Álex Palou was sent backward after Palou missed the chicane at the start, but strategy choices had Palou benefit from how the cautions fell and he ended up winning the entire race while Jones was at the front after the opening lap, but his strategy saw him slide down the order. 

Promotion Bracket Semifinals
#20 ECR def. #48 Ganassi (16 to 20. #48 Ganassi remains in League Two)
#3 Penske def. #14 Foyt (9 to 18. #14 Foyt remains in League Two).

Neither Conor Daly nor Jimmie Johnson were all that impressive at Portland but Daly's average day was always going to be enough to defeat Johnson. 

Scott McLaughlin avoided the incidents and made pit stops at the right time while Sébastien Bourdais was always stuck in the middle of the pack. 

Relegation Bracket Final
#18 Coyne def. #29 Andretti (10 to 20. #18 Coyne remains in League One)

Jones had a strong day, running in the top ten with his teammate Grosjean. Hinchcliffe had started 11th but dropped to 20th.

Promotion Bracket Final
#3 Penske def. #20 ECR (12 to 16. #20 ECR remains in League Two)

While 16th was good enough for Daly the previous week, it was not enough to beat McLaughlin at Laguna Seca. McLaughlin stayed around the top ten already before settling in 12th.

Promotion Playoff Final
#3 Penske def. #29 Andretti (11 to 14. #3 Penske promoted to League One. #29 Andretti relegated to League Two)

Hinchcliffe was strong for the first half of the Long Beach race. He was running in the top ten but after his second pit stop, Hinchcliffe fell down the order. He was quickly out of the top ten and then behind McLaughlin. 

McLaughlin won head-to-head and earned promotion. Hinchcliffe and Andretti Autosport fell out of the top league. 

How Do Things Look For Next Year?
Next year, League One tentatively looks like this:

#2 Penske
#9 Ganassi
#30 RLLR
#12 Penske
#15 RLLR
#22 Penske
#51 Coyne
#27 Andretti
#26 Andretti
#18 Coyne
#10 Ganassi
#28 Andretti
#8 Ganassi
#60 MSR
#3 Penske

Which means our tentative League Two teams are:

#29 Andretti
#21 ECR
#20 ECR
#14 Foyt
#48 Ganassi
#59 Carlin
#4 Foyt

There are a few issues with next season. For starters, the #22 Penske entry is likely going away. That leaves a spot open in League One. Does the #29 Andretti stay? Should another League Two entry be promoted? There will also be two new entries full-time in the second Meyer Shank Racing car, the #06 Honda and Juncos Hollinger Racing will run the #77 Chevrolet. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing could be expanding to three cars. There is also a chance Carlin could expand to a second car or completely withdraw from a series. 

Ahead of the 2021 season, I made an executive decision to have the #26 Andretti entry replace the #98 Andretti entry as the #98 entry was reduced to a one-off entry, the #88 entry became the #29 and putting the #26 Andretti entry into League One put Colton Herta into the top league. 

I think I just have to see how the offseason plays out. I don't think any of the relegated entries should be kept up, but none of the other League Two entries are worthy of promotion. 

If we look at the entrants' championship, the top 2021 team set to be in League Two next year is the #21 ECR entry, but that was dead last in its conference. The next best is surprisingly the #14 Foyt entry, but that entry wasn't even in the top two of League Two. A new entrant shouldn't automatically be included in the top league. I think I have to let the offseason play out, see where drivers land and then see who should fill out League One. 

It appears the League Two format will need to be adjusted because it will likely have more than eight entries and could even have an odd number of entries. I might have more work to do this offseason. 

I think we have to end on Josef Newgarden being a three-time, unbeaten champion. That might make him the undisputed best driver in IndyCar. He has always been the best in the head-to-head competition. In the last three years of the actual championship, he has been first, second and second. What are the odds of the same driver always coming out on top head-to-head? You are either really lucky or really damn good, and I am leaning toward Newgarden being really damn good. 

In the three years, we have had Newgarden take on Ed Jones in the #20 ECR entry in the final, Newgarden against Dixon when both were the top two championship drivers, and this year it was Newgarden vs. O'Ward, which turned out to be the battle for second in the actual championship. Three years is a small sample size, but it looks like the best drivers in the championship are going to end up being the best in this, although 2021 IndyCar champion Álex Palou didn't even make the playoffs and had to participate in the relegation bracket playoff to stay alive. 

We never know how it will play out, but head-to-head battles provide a different way to look at an IndyCar season.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

2021 Road to Indy Review

IndyCar ended its season at Laguna Seca at the end of September, but Mid-Ohio played host to the Road to Indy season finale on the first weekend in October.

All three series championships were on the line over the final weekend, though some were closer than others. A few drivers stood out while others were rather average. Some drivers are looking set for great things. Others have some work to do. 

We are going over the top drivers from each of the top three series, look at what was expected before the season began, what happened and what these drivers should do in 2022. 

Indy Lights
Kyle Kirkwood: #28 Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/Construction Contractors Club Dallara-AER (1st, 537 points)
What did I write before the season: Kirkwood was going to be the favorite last season. I wonder if somewhere in his mind Kirkwood is thinking he should be dipping his toes in IndyCar this year and the pandemic has stunted his career. Through every step in the ladder, Kirkwood has come out on top. He was a little off the top spot in testing and was actually slower than Megennis, but that does not concern me. Kirkwood is going to win races and he should be in the championship fight until the very end.

How incorrect was it: Kirkwood won ten races, tying the Indy Lights single-season record Greg Moore set in 1995. He was on the podium in 14 of 20 races and he had 18 top five finishes. This is the third consecutive Indy Lights championship for Andretti Autosport and Kirkwood became the third American driver in the last four seasons.

What should he do in 2022: Move up to IndyCar. The only problem is tying Greg Moore's single-season victory is not enough for Kirkwood to even move up to the open IndyCar seat within the Andretti Autosport organization. More on that in a moment. 

It sounds like Kirkwood could move up with another team, say Dale Coyne Racing with the Vasser/Sullivan partnership, but Andretti has Kirkwood under contract for another year and doesn't want to let him go. Kirkwood might get shipped to Formula E for a season. Either way, Kirkwood will be racing elsewhere in 2022. Hopefully it is full-time in IndyCar. It felt like the driver who lost the most in 2020 was Kirkwood because he lost a shot at IndyCar. He really could have been in IndyCar this season

David Malukas: #79 HMD Trucking Dallara-AER (2nd, 524 points)
What did I write before the season: Malukas topped testing and he could be the most overlooked driver entering the season. He won pole position at St. Petersburg last year before the season was shutdown. He has been good in each step of the Road to Indy, but he has never spent more than one year in a series. This will be his second Indy Lights season. Malukas should win a few races. It will be a tough championship battle between Malukas, Kirkwood and Lundqvist with Peroni, Megennis and Pedersen in the next tier of drivers.

How incorrect was it: Malukas won seven races, stood on the podium 16 times and had 18 top five finishes as he was second in the championship, 13 points short of a title. 

What should he do in 2022: I think Malukas is ready for IndyCar and his name has bounced around in conversations. Like Kirkwood, Malukas hasn't been clearly linked to one team. It seems like Malukas could be full-time, or he could end up being part-time possibly sharing a car with another driver. Success will likely come down to who is his teammate. While Malukas has been strong, I don't think he will just enter IndyCar and shoot right to the top. He will need guidance.

Linus Lundqvist: #26 HPD/Global Racing Group/FX Airguns/Paytrim/JULA Dallara-AER (3rd, 449 points)
What did I write before the season: We will get a good clue of how the SCCA-sanctioned Formula 4 and Formula Regional championships measure up compared to the Road to Indy. Lundqvist has won championships in his native Sweden and he was the 2018 BRDC Formula Three champion. He will win multiple races and I think he will be one of the top three drivers.

How incorrect was it: Lundqvist won three races and finished third in the championship. For the first two-thirds of the season, Lundqvist was hanging around with Kirkwood and Malukas and then Gateway was a tough weekend and that knocked the Swede out of the championship fight, but his 11 podium finishes have him comfortably in third.

What should he do in 2022: For the first half of the season, Lundqvist was mentioned as an IndyCar-destined driver like Kirkwood and Malukas, but the later-half of 2021 suggests another year in Indy Lights would not hurt. Only three drivers won in Indy Lights this year and Kirkwood and Malukas were notably ahead of Lundqvist. If Lundqvist returns, he will be the 2022 title favorite.

Benjamin Pedersen: #24 DirtFish/Bell Helmets/The Heart of Racing/Colibri Capital Dallara-AER (4th, 356 points)
What did I write before the season: Prior to his season in Britain, Pedersen was third and second in the F3 Americas Championship and he has won races in Formula 4 United States Championship. He knows some of the tracks and we saw Colton Herta run in Britain, which kind of rounded him out before he entered Indy Lights. Pedersen looked good in testing and he will make the championship more competitive. Not everyone can finish in the top five of the championship. He will be on the cusp of the top five.

How incorrect was it: Pedersen ended up fourth in the championship and snuggly in the top five of the championship. His first half of the season was confusing. He was second in the season opener but then had only one other top five finish in the first 12 races of the season. He followed that up with six consecutive top five finishes and seven in the final eight races.

What should he do in 2022: Stay in Indy Lights. This season was odd for Pedersen. He was clearly led the second tier, but never really threatened the top three in any races. Most of his podium came when at least one of the top three had a problem. He needs a few races where he is the best guy or fighting for the top spot.

Daniel Frost: #68 DEN-JET Dallara-AER (5th, 338 points)
What did I write before the season: Frost's second season in Indy Pro 2000 was better than his first but outside of the opening weekend he was rather pedestrian, not really competing for race victories. I think he will have a solid season, consistently scoring top five finishes like he did in Indy Pro 2000, but that might only be good enough for third in the team, far from good enough to top the championship. 

How incorrect was it: Frost did not win a race and he had four podium finishes, but his seven top five finishes were kind of what we expected. Good, but not great and definitely not the best in the Andretti Autosport organization.

What should he do in 2022: I guess stay in Indy Lights. For the second consecutive season, Frost underperformed compared to expectations. He won the Indy Pro 2000 season opener last year and then wasn't a threat after the first three races. This year, Frost had two good weekends, maybe three. He wasn't close to Kirkwood. Perhaps Frost can breakout next year, but that does not feel likely.

Devlin DeFrancesco: #17 PowerTap Dallara-AER (6th, 326 points)
What did I write before the season: DeFrancesco is a bit of a mystery. His results in the European junior series were underwhelming. He showed good pace last year in Indy Pro 2000, but when he needed to pull out results, he faltered and lost the championship. His preseason testing pace was toward the bottom of the charts. He might get on the podium once or twice, but I don't expect him to be a championship challenger. I would not be surprised if he finished outside the top five.

How incorrect was it: DeFrancesco opened the season with a pair of third place finishes at Barber Motorsports Park, but he did not finish on the podium again for the rest of the season and he had only nine total top five finishes. 

What should he do in 2022: It sounds like DeFrancesco will move up to Andretti Autosport's #29 Honda entry in IndyCar next year despite winning ten fewer races than teammate Kirkwood, not finishing on the podium in the final 18 races of the season and he scored 211 points fewer than Kirkwood. For DeFrancesco, he has bounced form series to series but outside of the 2017 Euroformula Open Championship he has never been that impressive. Even his Indy Pro 2000 season last year was unremarkable when you see how he slumped late in the season and cost himself the championship. 

Kirkwood should be in the Andretti IndyCar season and DeFrancesco should remain in Indy Lights. But life is not fair.

Robert Megennis: #27 Andretti Autosport Dallara-AER (7th, 319 points)
What did I write before the season: Megennis is one of the few drivers coming in with Indy Lights experience and he looked competitive in testing. He should be in the mix at most races. Megennis has never been the standout driver in a Road to Indy series. He has always been just off the top. A victory or two would not be a surprise, but that will likely not be enough for a championship.

How incorrect was it: Megennis was a letdown. For a driver with Indy Lights experience, he had only three podium finishes and six top five finishes. I am not saying he had to win the championship, but the grid didn't become significantly more difficult than 2019. It was tougher, but not that tougher.

What should he do in 2022: I am not sure. Megennis should have been better this season. I wouldn't have guessed he would have finished fourth of four Andretti drivers unless they somehow went 1-2-3-4 in the championship or took four of the top five. A third Indy Lights season might get him back on track, but Megennis could use this as his chance to move to sports cars. He has done well in his handful of sports car outings. 

Sting Ray Robb: #2 Sekady Capital/Goodheart-Firehouse Animal Center Dallara-AER (8th, 249 points)
What did I write before the season: Robb's championship came in his fourth Indy Pro 2000 season and he got it at only 19 years old. The Idahoan was off in testing. I almost think he will need a season to acclimate to the car. His results should improve as the season goes along. 

How incorrect was it: Robb had only one finish of seventh or better in the first 16 races. He picked up his first top five finish, a fifth, in the penultimate race of the season at Mid-Ohio.

What should he do in 2022: Return to Indy Lights. It took him four years to win the Indy Pro 2000 championship. He mind as well stay in Indy Lights for the next three years.

Toby Sowery: #51 m-start/Kumpf Dallara-AER (9th, 236 points)
What did I write before the season: Sowery was impressive in 2019 and was somewhat unheralded considering what he did with his limited funding. Juncos Racing is returning to Indy Lights. His times were just slightly better than Robb in testing. If one Juncos driver ends up competing for the podium on a regular basis, I expect it to be Sowery, but looking at this grid I would not be surprised if his championship finish is worse than third.

How incorrect was it: Sowery started well with three podium finishes and even top five finishes in the first ten races, but after a five-race top five finish drought, Sowery left Juncos Racing prior to the Portland round and did not return for the final leg of the season.

What should he do in 2022: I am sad Sowery left the series early. He looked good though victory eluded him. After 2019, I thought he could be a sleeper to make it up to IndyCar. That might still be there. But, if he is leaving Indy Lights midseason because he cannot win the championship, I am not sure he is keeping IndyCar on his radar, and that is sad.

Alex Peroni: #5 Blundstone/Tasmania/RDM Fast Ferries Dallara-AER (10th, 228 points)
What did I write before the season: The newest European transfer, Peroni had bright moments in Formula Three and he was carrying Campos Racing last season as he was the only driver to score points. Like Juncos, Carlin is returning to Indy Lights but Carlin has been absent for much longer. All these tracks will be new for Peroni but I think he will win a few races. He could even be a surprise championship contender. 

How incorrect was it: Peroni did not win a race, but he opened the season with five top five finishes in the first eight races. He had seven top five finishes through the first 16 races when, like Sowery, Peroni left the championship with only six races remaining.

What should he do in 2022: As sad as I was to see Sowery go, I was equally as sad about Peroni. A competitive driver in Europe, Peroni was learning all these tracks and most weekends had at least one good race. I hope both Peroni and Sowery return to Indy Lights. The series need drivers of this quality.

Christian Bogle: #7 Pelican Energy Dallara-AER (11th, 227 points)
What did I write before the season: Bogle is not ready for Indy Lights. He arguably isn't even ready for Indy Pro 2000. He was slowest in testing. I expect him to spend much of the season at the bottom of the charts.

How incorrect was it: Bogle had zero top five finishes and he was outside the top ten in nine races. He scored one fewer point than his Carlin teammate Peroni, who ran six fewer races.

What should he do in 2022: Bogle shouldn't have been in Indy Lights this year. He can only go up from here, but I don't think he can rise that much. He should at least step down to Indy Pro 2000.

Antonio Serravalle: #11 LedgeMark Homes LivGreen/Tycoon Capital Dallara-AER (12th, 175 points)
What did I write before the season: Similar to Bogle, I don't think Serravalle is ready for Indy Lights. He did have better showings in Indy Pro 2000 compared to Bogle's U.S. F2000 results. Serravalle did have his share of top five finishes but he was not one of the top drivers in the series. His pace was a little better with Bogle in testing. He will be a bottom-feeder as well.

How incorrect was it: Serravalle did not finish in the top five this season, though he was sixth in the first Road America race. He did skip Portland and Laguna Seca. 

What should he do in 2022: Same as Bogle.

Nikita Lastochkin: #59 Russkaya Mekhanika Dallara-AER (13th, 123 points)
What did I write before the season: Lastochkin was toward the bottom in testing. His Road to Indy results have never been that impressive. In 76 starts, he has only two podium finishes. He is not going to factor in for many top five finishes.

How incorrect was it: Lastochkin did not come close to a top five finish. His best result was eighth. He had only four top ten finishes in the first 12 races and he did not return after the summer break.

What should he do in 2022: With Lastochkin leaving midseason, I think we could have seen the last of him in the Road to Indy system.

Who should we have seen more of?
Besides Sowery and Peroni, I wish Indy Lights could attract those drivers who are not in line for a Formula One seat in Europe but are clearly talented drivers, especially American drivers.

Juan Manuel Correa is a good driver but going from Formula Two back down to Formula Three to try and reignite your career is unlikely. Correa should come home to the United States and give Indy Lights a try. 

Logan Sargeant nearly won the FIA Formula Three championship in 2020 before a few accidents in the Mugello finale. He returned and did well this year, but when you drop in a championship after being a championship contender, it is not an attractive look to a Formula One team. Sargeant nearly didn't even get a ride this year. I know Indy Lights isn't cheap, but it would be more affordable than running in Formula Three for a third year. 

After seeing how Christian Lundgaard performed in his IndyCar debut, I don't think any Formula Two driver would go to Indy Lights. I think they would only jump straight into IndyCar, but Formula Three drivers could use a season to get up to speed and learn the tracks. 

In the United States, it would have been nice to see Rasmus Lindh compete full-time after he was committed to the 2020 season before the season was cancelled. Lindh has been strong in the Road to Indy and he has done well in LMP3 competition. Lindh would just add to the wave of Scandinavian drivers in the Road to Indy series. 

Also, in jest, I wanted to see Jimmie Johnson run an Indy Lights race. What level of the Road to Indy would Johnson have to drop to and be competitive?

Who have we seen enough of?
In a good way, Kirkwood and Malukas. They are set for IndyCar.

As I said above, Bogle and Serravalle should be in Indy Pro 2000.
Indy Pro 2000
Christian Rasmussen: #1 JHDD, CSU | One Cure/Lucas Oil Tatuus (1st, 445 points)
What did I write before the season: Rasmussen was marvelous last year, and I think he will continue to be one of the top drivers into Indy Pro 2000. He did have a dip in the middle of last season, which left the championship open. He will have to be more clinical because I don't think he will be able to fall back on six consecutive victories to open a season.

How incorrect was it: Rasmussen was the top driver in Indy Pro 2000. He did not win six consecutive races, but he took hold of the championship with six victories in eight races from the second St. Petersburg race through the first Mid-Ohio race in July. He ended with seven victories and 12 podium finishes.

What should he do in 2022: Definitely move up to Indy Lights. I think we are looking at some Scandinavian fighting between Swede Lundqvist, Dane Rasmussen and then there is the Danish-American Pedersen. I think Rasmussen could make it a three-year sweep of the Road to Indy championships.

Braden Eves: #91 Cambridge/Exclusive Autosport Tatuus (2nd, 407 points)
What did I write before the season: Eves was 11th in testing and I think he is still recovering. He hasn't had much time in a car since his accident. I expect a slow start but with results improving over the course of the season. He might not be able to get back to a race-winning level, but it would not surprise me if he won a race or two later in the season. 

How incorrect was it: Eves won two of the first three races and was on the podium in four of the first seven races. He picked up another victory at Gateway and finished the season with three victories and nine podium finishes.

What should he do in 2022: I am glad Eves return to competition and did not need ten races to get up to speed after a fractured vertebrae ended his season prematurely in 2020. I think he is ready for Indy Lights. 

Hunter McElrea: #18 Giltrap Group/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners Tatuus (3rd, 378 points)
What did I write before the season: McElrea was fourth in testing, but I think he is one of the championship favorites. He had four runner-up finishes last year. He probably should have won an additional race. He cannot afford the same slow start that he had last year. 

How incorrect was it: McElrea was third in the championship with three victories and seven podium finishes. He did have a somewhat slow start with four finishes outside the top five in seven races and only four top five finishes in the first ten races. He ended with six top five finishes in the final eight races, including five podium results.

What should he do in 2022: Though his result fluctuated more than Rasmussen and Eves, I think McElrea should join them moving to Indy Lights.

Artem Petrov: #42 Road to Success/Bell/226ers Tatuus (4th, 374 points)
What did I write before the season: Petrov was up and down last year and he was sixth in testing. He should win a race or two and keep his name in the championship discussion.

How incorrect was it: Petrov won two races and he stood on the podium on the podium nine times.

What should he do in 2022: Make it four of the top four moving up to Indy Lights.

Reece Gold: #55 The Ticket Clinic Tatuus (5th, 366 points)
What did I write before the season: Gold improved mightily in his second U.S. F2000 season last year. He was in the middle of the pack during testing. I think he will be competing for top five finishes and could end up on a few podiums. 

How incorrect was it: Gold had six podium finishes in the first ten races, but no victories. He finally got his first victory at New Jersey Motorsports Park, but that was his final podium finish in the final eight races. He had 12 top five finishes. 

What should he do in 2022: I think Gold could move up to Indy Lights, but he is only 17 years old. He does not turn 18 until next September. He could stay in Indy Pro 2000 and be the top driver, develop more and then join Indy Lights more rounded in 2023. He could move up next year and end up having to spend at least two years in Indy Lights or stay in Indy Pro 2000 and then move up Indy Lights. Either way, he is at least two years away from IndyCar.

Jacob Abel: #51 Abel Constructrion/Bell Helmets Tatuus (6th, 292 points)
What did I write before the season: Not much. There is no guarantee he will complete a full season. He has some good results, but until he runs a full season, one-off good results aren't going to matter.

How incorrect was it: Seeing how I did not write much, Abel had two podium finishes and seven top five finishes.

What should he do in 2022: Stay in Indy Pro 2000 and make sure he is full-time. 

James Roe, Jr.: #3 Topcon Positioning Group Tatuus (7th, 241 points)
What did I write before the season: Testing was encouraging. I just wonder if Roe will be able to keep up that pace over the entire season. He could be respectable, but not necessarily pull out a victory. However, if he is regularly starting and running in the top five, he is bound to have a race fall his way. 

How incorrect was it: Roe, Jr. was not regularly in the top five, but things turned at Gateway where he won pole position and then finished fourth. He was fifth in the third New Jersey Race and then won the season finale in changing conditions at Mid-Ohio.

What should he do in 2022: Stay in Indy Pro 2000. Considering he only finished better than eighth in one of the first 12 races, his strong end is encouraging.

Kyffin Simpson: #21 Simpson Race Products/GoPro/SpY Tatuus (8th, 231 points)
What did I write before the season: Simpson looked good in testing and Juncos Racing is known for fielding competitive drivers. It would not surprise me if he won a few races. There are a few more Road to Indy experienced drivers on the grid and that could knock Simpson down a few spots in the championship.

How incorrect was it: Simpson did not win a race, but he had three finishes of third. He did not run the season finale at Mid-Ohio. He is also currently leading the Formula Regional Americans Championship. 

What should he do in 2022: I think he will be somewhere in the Road to Indy. Linus Lundqvist went from 2020 FR Americas champion to Indy Lights. I don't think Simpson is there, but it would not be a shock. I think he should stick to Indy Pro 2000.

Manuel Sulaimán: #22 Telcel Infinitum/WBC/Intellgentus/Anahuac Tatuus (9th, 214 points)
What did I write before the season: Sulaimán topped testing and he had flashes last year. He will have to be fighting for more podium finishes this season and I expect that to be the case. He will also need to win more races. I think that will also be the case. He should be somewhere in the top five of the championship and could end up on top.

How incorrect was it: Sulaimán had three podium finishes in the first ten races, including a victory at Road America. He was sixth in the championship but withdrew from the New Jersey weekend and competed in the final three Indy Lights weekends where his best finish was on debut at Portland, a sixth-place finish.

What should he do in 2022: Sulaimán is already in Indy Lights. He has won in Indy Pro 2000. I think the top five plus Sulaimán is a solid top six. This is a good move for him.

Wyatt Brichacek: #5 JHDD, CSU | One Cure/Lucas Oil Tatuus (10th, 212 points)
What did I write before the season: This is a big jump for Brichacek. I think he should have stayed in U.S. F2000. Top ten finishes will be hard to come by.

How incorrect was it: There were only about 12 cars in most of the races, so that makes top ten finishes easy to come by. Brichaeck had nine consecutive top ten finishes to end the season, but he finished two points behind Sulaimán who did not run the final six races.

What should he do in 2022: Stick in Indy Pro 2000.

Jack William Miller: #40 Indy Dental Group/LLC/Lumist Tatuus (11th, 203 points)
What did I write before the season: Miller took a few years to get the hang of U.S. F2000 and he looked good last year, nearly winning on the IMS road course. He was toward the bottom in testing. I don't think he will be in the top ten of the championship.

How incorrect was it: Miller was 11th in the championship, nine points outside the top ten, the worst of the full-time drivers. He was fourth in the first New Jersey race. He had ten top ten finishes.

What should he do in 2022: Stay where he is at.

Who should we have seen more of?
Enaam Ahmed had four top five finishes in nine starts, including a runner-up in the final race in mixed conditions at Mid-Ohio.

Also, Ahmed's original RP Motorsport teammate Enzo Fittipaldi. Remember him? He ran the Barber opening weekend and then turned his attention to Europe. Results in Formula Three and Formula Two have not been great.

Speaking of another Brazilian with a recognizable last name, 2020 U.S. F2000 vice-champion Eduardo Barrichello has not scored a point in 16 Formula Regional European Championship races this season in a field that draws over two-dozen cars. I wish Barrichello remained in the Road to Indy system. 

Who have we seen enough of?
I am going to say no one. I am in a good mood. The last two years have been tough. It is great to see these series doing as well as did in 2021. 

U.S. F2000
Kiko Porto: #12 Banco Dayvocal/Petromega Tatuus (1st, 413 points)
What did I write before the season: Unlike his teammates, Porto is already a U.S. F2000 race winner and if he is full-time I think he will be fighting for the championship. He was fifth in testing, but I think he enters this season as the leading DEForce Racing driver.

How incorrect was it: Porto won the championship with four victories, ten podium finishes and 15 top five finishes.

What should he do in 2022: He better move up because IndyCar has not had a promising Brazilian driver in a while.

Michael d'Orlando: #4 Focused Project Management/UFC Gym Tatuus (2nd, 365 points)
What did I write before the season: This will be d'Orlando's second full season in U.S. F2000. I think he needs to be on par with how he did last year. He cannot afford a setback, but testing was a little concerning as he was 12th.

How incorrect was it: After being fourth in 2020, d'Orlando was second in the championship, who three races, had eight podium finishes and 15 top five finishes.

What should he do in 2022: Move up. Though he has not won the championship in his two full seasons, he has shown he is ready.

Yuven Sundaramoorthy: #22 S team Motorsports Tatuus (3rd, 329 points)
What did I write before the season: This will be Sundaramoorthy's third season in U.S. F2000. He has finished 12th in the championship each year. He was eighth in testing. I think he will improve but I am not sure if he will be a threat for any race victories.

How incorrect was it: Sundaramoorthy was most improved and he won three of the first seven races and had five podium finishes in the first seven races. He had a lull midseason, but ended the year with four victories and nine podium finishes.

What should he do in 2022: His first two seasons were below average. After this season, Sundaramoorthy should jump up to Indy Pro 2000.

Josh Pierson: #24 TransUnion/iovation Tatuus (4th, 291 points)
What did I write before the season: Pierson was sixth in testing. This season should be a big improvement over last year. He should exceed his top ten finish total from last year and he should be fighting for top five finishes.

How incorrect was it: Pierson was fourth in the championship and he had five podium finishes, but he did not win a race.

What should he do in 2022: Pierson turns 16 years old in February. Stay in U.S. F2000. He is close to being a race winner and should breakthrough next year with how he improved from 2020.

Josh Green: #33 JHG Investment Fund Tatuus (5th, 279 points)
What did I write before the season: Green was fourth in testing. I think he could be a contender this season. He should probably get a victory or two.

How incorrect was it: Green did not win until the final race of the season, but he ended the season with five consecutive top five finishes and he had eight top five finishes overall.

What should he do in 2022: Green turns 19 years old next month. He is on the cusp of that age where he has almost aged out of U.S. F2000. Not every driver has to make IndyCar by the time they turn 19 years old, but you cannot be in the bottom rung into your 20s. 

Christian Brooks: #44 Hot Wheels/Chaco Flaco/Bell Helmets Tatuus (6th, 257 points)
What did I write before the season: Brooks led testing and he should be one of the favorites this season. He won the season finale last year and he will be coming in with a lot of momentum. Anything worse than the top three in the championship would be a surprise. 

How incorrect was it: Brooks started strong with two victories, three podium finishes and eight top five finishes in the first nine races, but Brooks had one top five result in the next seven races. He did not compete in the Mid-Ohio season finale as he ran the Indy Pro 2000 races and he was fifth in both races. 

What should he do in 2022: Brooks is 21 years old. I think running Indy Pro 2000 at Mid-Ohio speaks to where he will race next year.

Spike Kohlbecker: #5 Ignite Autosport/Raceway Gives/Tierpoint Tatuus (7th, 235 points)
What did I write before the season: Kohlbecker was on par with his senior teammate d'Orlando in testing. If d'Orlando picks up his pace during the season then I think Kohlbecker will be right there with him.

How incorrect was it: Kohlbecker was not quite equal to d'Orlando with only one top five finishes, a third in the first Road America race. He had 13 top ten finishes.

What should he do in 2022: He turns 19 years old in December. I think he can stick around U.S. F2000 for one more year. 

Nolan Siegal: #10 Menlo Ventures/Aero Paint Technologies Tatuus (8th, 227 points)
What did I write before the season: Siegal looked good in testing. He should make a jump up the championship and possibly win a few races. He could be a championship contender. 

How incorrect was it: Siegel stood on the podium four times and he had six top five finishes, but a rough start put him in a deep hole.  

What should he do in 2022: Siegal turns 17 years old next month. He should stay in U.S. F2000, clean up some of those poor results and next year he could be a serious contender.

Thomas Nepveu: #2 Cromwell/Pétrole Bélanger/Home Hardware Tatuus (9th, 220 points)
What did I write before the season: I don't think he will be in the top ten of the championship. This is a big step up from Formula 4. 

How incorrect was it: Very wrong because Nepveu was ninth in the championship and he won at Road America. He was also fifth in one of the IMS road course races and in the first Mid-Ohio race in July.

What should he do in 2022: This 17-year-old only benefits from another year in U.S. F2000.

Prescott Campbell: #11 Fluid Logic/Valkyrie Intelligence Tatuus (10th, 215 points)
What did I write before the season: Campbell was second in testing, just ahead of Siegal. I think both these drivers could be winning races and in the top five of the championship.

How incorrect was it: Campbell opened the season with a runner-up finish and a victory at Barber Motorsports Park, but he had only one podium finish for the rest of the season and only one other top five finish. He had a six-race stretch of finishes outside the top ten, including three of four results outside the top twenty.

What should he do in 2022: It felt like Campbell was going to make a big gain this season and it looked good through the first few weekends. He turns 21 years old in January. Maybe he can stay one more year, but I think he is aging out. Is Indy Pro 2000 too big of a leap? I don't think so. We have seen speed from Campbell. He could piece it together in the next level of the ladder system.

Jace Denmark: #23 Metal Works Custom Fabrication Tatuus (11th, 210 points)
What did I write before the season: Denmark was seventh in testing, which is quite good considering his lack of car racing experience. I think if he was a regular top ten finish that would be a good season.

How incorrect was it: Denmark had 11 top ten finishes, including a third at Indianapolis Raceway Park. 

What should he do in 2022: Build off of this first full season in cars. 

Billy Frazer: #91 Cambridge Global Services/Giltrap Group Tatuus (12th, 192 points)
What did I write before the season: Frazer was ninth in testing. He will be learning tracks this year but his pace is already competitive. He could be the darling of the season. 

How incorrect was it: Frazer had two top five finishes and he had eight top ten finishes. Not quite the darling of the season, but it was a good year.

What should he do in 2022: He is only going to be 18 years old. He should stay in U.S. F2000.

Myles Rowe: #99 Force Indy Tatuus (13th, 137 points)
What did I write before the season: Rowe was tenth in testing. He hasn't competed in car racing in almost four years. That testing pace is impressive. I think a regular top ten finisher is a reasonable expectation. 

How incorrect was it: Rowe had six top ten finishes, including a victory in mixed conditions in New Jersey. He did finish outside the top twenty in seven races!

What should he do in 2022: Rowe is in a tough spot. This was his first year seriously competing since 2017. He is 21 years old. He is a part of the diversity program, and he showed promise this year. There were a lot of races where he was in early accident and that is not a good thing in terms of developing. I don't think he should move up to Indy Pro 2000. It is not like he has been in this series for three years. Wherever Rowe goes in 2022, he has to see the checkered flag more than his did this year.

Who should we have seen more of?
Simon Sikes. He had four consecutive podium finishes between Road America and the July Mid-Ohio weekend. Sikes was part-time with Legacy Autosport, and he just won the SCCA Formula Continental National Championship a year after he won the SCCA Formula F National Championship. He was second in Formula F this year. I think Sikes could win this championship outright. He is also turning 21 years old next month. He could jump right into Indy Pro 2000 and be successful.

Who have we seen enough of?
It is the entry level to the Road of Indy. No one has had enough time.

Looking to 2022
Indy Lights will be back under the Penske-owned IndyCar banner after Andersen Promotions ran the series since 2014. Andersen Promotions will still operate Indy Pro 2000 and U.S. F2000. 

We have already seen Penske's fingerprints on Indy Lights with the Freedom 100 removed from the schedule. Many people are high on Penske's involvement; however, I don't think Penske will turn a series that for the better part of the last 12 years have struggled to break a dozen entries will somehow turn into a healthy, self-sufficient series full of quality entries. 

Indy Lights has had good years over the last decade-plus. It has had top heavy seasons with three or four great drivers and then four or five bland drivers. The introduction of the IL-15 chassis brought a two-year burst to the series in 2015 and 2016, but since then it has been in the same hole it has really been in since the recession swept the legs out from underneath the series in the 2009-2010 time frame. 

The 2021 season ends with the same reality Indy Lights has been facing for the last decade and nothing changed this year to think it will get better. Indy Lights is still a financially unviable series that costs too much and does not get enough exposure to warrant sponsorship interest. Penske is a great name to tag to the series, but without a platform that draws a respectable audience, Indy Lights will still be four or five teams with about 11-13 cars with about five good drivers and then five drivers who have a dream but not necessarily the talent to make it to the highest level. 

We also saw the Indy Pro 2000 grid dip this season. U.S. F2000 remains strong, and I think the entry level will have good turnaround because it is the start. The Road to Indy will expand next year with the USF Juniors series, effectively a Formula Four car. USF Juniors will be open to drivers as young as 14 years old. 

I think USF Juniors could be a step too far. It might be a great option for those who are starting car racing and transitioning from karting, but I think the series will take the backend of the U.S. F2000 and move those drivers in another series. Instead of committing two or three years in U.S. F2000 and using that first season as a learning experience, drivers will now go to USF Junior, but USF Junior might attract a few younger drivers who do not feel comfortable jumping into U.S. F2000, and an intermediary step is more attractive. 

Next year will be interesting. Between Indy Lights under the Penske promotional arm, Indy Pro 2000 and U.S. F2000 introducing a new car and an entirely new series to the ladder system, there will be plenty of moving parts to keep an eye on in 2022.