Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Best of the Month: August 2021

August had an Olympic break for most series, a summer break for Formula One, but by the end of the month, most every series was back in competition. We are in the final days for some series. Championships are becoming tighter. We have a better idea who is in the fight and who has fallen out of it. Not much time is left in 2021 and in a month's time, we will be ending a few championships. 

One championship is already decided, and that is where we will start this August review.

Formula E Review
We did a premature Formula E season review before the final round, but now that a bow is on the 2021 championship, this is a chance to comment on the final results and the season at large. 

I am not sure any other series could have 14 drivers mathematically eligible for a championship entering a final race and produce a more anti-climactic finale than Formula E had at Berlin. Six points covered the top five drivers and nine points covered the top seven. None of the top five move after the finale. Sam Bird went from eighth to sixth. Lucas di Grassi and António Félix da Costa each slipped a position. Stoffel Vandoorne was the big winner jumping from 15th to ninth. Jean-Éric Vergne slipped down to tenth. 

For as tight as the Formula E championship was on paper, and for how good a lot of the races were this season, it left a lot to be desired when the season concluded. 

The way the qualifying groups worked kept everyone close, but it produced a dull finale and frankly left us with a championship that felt a little hollow. I guess Nyck de Vries was the best driver this season. De Vries was one of only four drivers with multiple victories this season, and nobody won more than two races, but de Vries had four podium results from 15 races, under a third of the races, he only scored points in seven of 15 races, less than half, and he scored points in only three of the final seven races. His only top five finishes were his four podium results. 

Nobody was consistently good because it was set up so nobody could be consistently good. The longest points finish streak was four races. Lucas di Grassi had a lackluster run of finishes of seventh, tenth, tenth and first from Valencia through the first Puebla race. Alex Lynn was third, ninth, tenth and sixth from the second Valencia race through the Puebla weekend. 

The qualifying format needs a revamp after this season. With only 18 cars going to be entered next year, I think Formula E's best route would be to copy IndyCar's qualifying format. After practice, split the field in half. In round one, there are two groups and the top six advance to round two. It doesn't have to be the top six from each group. It could be the top five or top four even. Then round two could be it and that decides pole position and the first few rows, or you could have the top half of that round advance to a third and final round for pole position. 

Regardless of how many rounds Formula E does or how many cars advance, that would be a better qualifying format and allow the top teams to show they are the top teams instead of burying them in the back of the field at least half the time.

We need to see the best at the front instead of kidding ourselves and having someone get a break in qualifying and end up at the front of the field. Formula E should not be afraid to have a standout driver or two. The early seasons benefitted from the yearly tussle between di Grassi and Sébastien Buemi. It was the same but it was natural. They kept ending up at the finale against each other. If someone else wants to be the best, they were the two to beat and we all knew it. Fourteen drivers fighting for the championship is too much of a good thing, especially when most of those drivers are starting outside the points and are not going to have a puncher's chance at the title. 

Best of the Second-Third
We are at the end of August and nearly two-thirds of 2021 are behind us. I thought I would repeat what I did at the end of April and pick out some of the top races, top racers, and other top moments from the last four months.

Top Races:

Monaco ePrix
Not many races see the top six starters finish 1-2-3-4-5-6 and it is an incredible race. Formula E's first time around the full Monaco grand prix course ended up being arguably the best race in series history. There were six lead changes over the 26-lap affair. Passes were happening all over the 2.062-mile circuit and there was a last lap pass into the harbor chicane with António Félix da Costa successfully going around the outside of Mitch Evans to take the lead. Da Costa took the victory, Robin Frijns would nip Evans for second by 0.024 seconds and less than four seconds covered the top six finishers.

6 Hours of the Glen
IMSA has a way to put on an endurance race. With a half hour left in the 6 Hours of the Glen, all seven Daytona Prototype international cars were on the lead lap, four of five GT Le Mans cars were on the same lap and the top 11 cars in GT Daytona were on the same lap. The overall victory would come down to a strategical play by the #55 Mazda to stretch its fuel on the final stint. The #60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura had led 125 laps up to that point and would put pressure on Mazda. 

Keeping an eye on the fuel, the Mazda also needed to watch its speed to make sure it didn't have to run an extra lap. It timed out perfectly. Mazda took the victory by 0.965 over the MSR Acura with the race ending after six hours and 4.522 seconds. It is a good thing as well. Mazda ran out of fuel on the cool down lap.

Meanwhile, the #3 Corvette had its own battle with the #24 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW and took victory by 0.845 seconds. In LMP2, WIN Autosport won by 1.139 seconds over PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and Riley Motorsports won by LMP3 by 1.635 seconds over CORE Autosport. The largest class victory was GTD, where the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW won by 5.747 seconds over the #1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini.

MotoGP's Austrian Grand Prix
Few events are more exhilarating than MotoGP on the Red Bull Ring. With the speed and lengthy straightaways, the course invites overtake opportunities and dares riders to make late braking decisions. Add the threat of rain and the Austrian Grand Prix became a gamble for all the riders on the grid. Riders could gamble on tire strategy expecting to change bikes anyway, but it would also be a gamble on when to switch. 

The race started and Francesco Bagnaia led the way. Behind Bagnaia, Pramac Ducati riders Jorge Martín and Johann Zarco, Marc Márquez and Fabio Quartararo fought throughout the top five. Bagnaia never pulled away and it felt everyone was waiting for the rain. Ten laps were completed, then 15, then 20. The track remained dry. It felt like we would get through the race without a significant enough rain to force bike changes. But then a sprinkle started. The leaders slowed to make it around the circuit. It was raining, but with the race in the final laps, time was almost suggesting ride it out. Joan Mir and Brad Binder joined the front runners. 

A few riders in the midfield dove in hoping for a downpour. With four laps to go, the rain became heavier. Bagnaia, Márquez, Quartararo, Martin and Mir jumped in for a change. Binder stayed out. 

The rain picked up over the final three laps. Binder, Áleix Espargaró, Valentino Rossi, Iker Lecuona and Luca Marini stayed out, rolling the dice to the end. Meanwhile, those on wet tires were trying to take advantage of the extra grip. Márquez lost the front in turn one and fell out of the charge. They were clawing out seconds to the slick runners. Binder had a significant gap to the rest of the risk takers. On the final lap, a full downpour had begun. The slick runners were in sight of Bagnaia and the bunch. 

Binder tip-toed around the circuit and made it to the checkered flag. The wet tire runners caught the rest of the slick runners. Bagnaia and Martín made the podium. Mir was fourth ahead of Marini and Lecuona. Quartararo got ahead of Rossi for the top Yamaha rider. If there had been one more lap, Binder's 12-second gap would not have been enough for victory. On this day, the rain fell at the right time for the risk taker to win out.

Top Racers:

Kyle Larson
Since the start of May, Larson has won the Coca-Cola 600, the Sonoma NASCAR Cup race, the inaugural Nashville Superspeedway Cup race, the NASCAR All-Star Race, the King's Royal, the NASCAR Cup race at Watkins Glen and the Knoxville Nationals. He took over the championship lead in the Cup Series. That is a pretty solid third for Larson.

Bill Auberlen
At times it feels like IMSA's most successful driver is under-appreciated, but Auberlen had two victories in IMSA's top class and two Michelin Pilot Challenge victories in the middle third of 2021. He is current second in IMSA's GTD championship with Robby Foley and leads the Grand Sport championship with Dillon Machavern. He has also won in the GT World Challenge America. 

Nyck de Vries
De Vries became the Formula E champion, capping off a season with two victories and four podium finishes. On top of that, de Vries won the European Le Mans Series race at Circuit Paul Ricard with G-Drive Racing, while finishing third in LMP2 in the FIA World Endurance Championship's 6 Hours of Monza.

Top Moments

Hélio Castroneves' fourth Indianapolis 500 victory
After last year's Indianapolis 500 was run behind closed doors in August, this year's race felt like a homecoming. Only 135,000 spectators were allowed in the facility, but it was an encouraging day after the last year. Little did anyone know this year's race would be historic. The race developed into an Álex Palou, Patricio O'Ward and Hélio Castroneves battle. After the final round of pit stops, Palou and Castroneves became the two clear front runners. Castroneves made his move into turn one with two laps to go. The Brazilian took the lead and with traffic ahead, he held off Palou and became the fourth four-time Indianapolis 500 winner. 

Of all the possible outcomes for this Indianapolis 500, this one could not have been more beautiful. After a year without many celebrations or shared moments, there could not have been a bigger moment to see. There hadn't been a four-time winner in 30 years. Castroneves had gone 12 years since his third victory. We were reaching the point where it felt like it was never going to happen for Castroneves. And yet, in his first year with Meyer Shank Racing, Castroneves got his moment. We all got to see it and experience it. For a significant group, it happened right under their noses, after a year where these in-person experiences were non-existent.

British Grand Prix: Lap One, Copse
The 2021 Formula One season has seen a tussle between two teams, something we have not seen in close to a decade. Red Bull has taken the fight to Mercedes and at the start of summer, Red Bull had the upper hand. Max Verstappen had won three consecutive races. Red Bull had won five consecutive races with Verstappen's Monaco triumph and Sergio Pérez's victory in Baku. After the Austrian Grand Prix, Verstappen led Lewis Hamilton by 32 points and Red Bull led the Constructors' Championship by 44 points. 

Pressure was on Mercedes for the British Grand Prix. Hamilton took pole position for the sprint race, but Verstappen got the jump at the start of the sprint qualifying race and took the victory ahead of Hamilton. With the two drivers reversed on the grid for the grand prix, Hamilton knew he had to get ahead of the Dutchman. Both drivers got off to an equal start. Hamilton tried to slipstream Verstappen down the Wellington straight, but Verstappen kept the lead. The drivers remained close through Luffield and Woodcote. 

Hamilton again had a run and looked up the inside of Copse. Verstappen kept the pressure, expecting Hamilton to back out. Neither driver lifted. Contact was made. Verstappen spun off into the barrier. Hamilton remained on track. 

A red flag, radio politicking and apex analysis followed. Red Bull felt cheated. Hamilton received a penalty. We will cover the rest of the race in a moment. Lap one at Copse has been the pivotal moment in the Formula One season, even though the season isn't halfway over. That collision will likely hang over the championship battle until the final lap of the season. 

NASCAR, Indianapolis: The Finish
The first 75 laps of the NASCAR Cup Series' first race around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course was a rather familiar race. There were alternate strategies around the stage breaks, some passing on the racetrack, a few quirky moments, but overall a sufficient inaugural Cup race on the IMS road course.

A caution was thrown late for debris. A sizable piece of metal had come off a car and slid what appeared far enough away from the racing line that the final laps could be run without interruption, but NASCAR was precautious and decided to pick it up. Little did NASCAR know the damage such a caution would cause. 

Two laps after that restart, William Byron hit the curb in turn six, only instead of gliding over it and continuing down the Hulman straightaway, Byron's car broke the curbing and sent him off course. Another half-dozen cars spun into the barriers. Debris littered the racetrack and the race was immediately red flagged. 

It would take over two hours for the race to finish. The curb was removed for an overtime attempt, but the sausage curb to prevent cars from shortcutting turn six remained in place. On the next restart, cars jumped over that and caused another accident and another red flag. The entire overtime period took 13 laps. 

On top of all the turn six chaos, Chase Briscoe cut the first two corners on the final restart. While having to serve a penalty for short cutting the circuit, Briscoe spun Denny Hamlin. This gave the lead to A.J. Allmendinger driving for Kaulig Racing. Allmendinger took the white flag and faced no pressure on the final lap. In Kaulig Racing's seventh NASCAR Cup race, Allmendinger had scored the team's first victory. An unexpected end for an unexpected, but embarrassing day... for NASCAR at least. Allmendinger was a gracious and deserving winner. 

Those who need a pick-me-up

Andretti Autosport
You try not to be harsh when it is unnecessary, but Andretti Autosport's 2021 IndyCar season has been underwhelming to say the least. With all the hype based on the talent of Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi complemented with the veterans Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, the team has not been great in 2021. Herta has the only victory, a dominant performance at St. Petersburg. What initially was thought to set the tone for the season has turned into a one-hit wonder. Rossi has no podium finishes this season and has only led two laps. Herta has stood on the podium twice, but he threw away a victory at Nashville and the driveshaft broke while leading at Gateway. Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe each have only one top five finish. Only Herta is in the top ten of the championship. The team has won just two of the last 34 races. Considering the expectations, the team can only be described as a disappointment. 

Mitch Evans
The Formula E finale was anti-clamatic, but Evans had a good shout at the championship while sitting on the grid for the final race. Only five points off the championship lead, Evans started third. Championship leader Nyck de Vries was 13th, out of a points-paying position while other championship rivals Edoardo Mortara and Jake Dennis started 11th and ninth respectively. Just based on the starting positions, Evans was set to take the championship lead into turn one. Except Evans never made it to turn one. The Jaguar stalled on the line. The field dodged the stricken New Zealander, except for Mortara who collided with the back of Evans and brought out the red flag. Evans' championship hopes were already dashed. Mortara's contact rubbed salt in the wound. 

Sebastien Vettel
This is all because of Vettel's disqualification from the Hungarian Grand Prix. Vettel was second on the road, but he did not return the car to parc fermé with enough fuel to provide a sample to the FIA. Worst of all, Vettel stopped on the circuit before the pit entrance on the cool down lap worried that the car would not have enough fuel. If he had stopped a few corners earlier or had just stopped near the pit exit after taking the checkered flag, he likely would have kept his second podium finish of the season.

Top Comebacks

Kyle Busch: Stuck in fourth gear and coasts to victory at Pocono
Busch was stuck in fourth gear midway through the second NASCAR Cup race at Pocono. He led the race, but it appeared this would not be his day. Stuck in gear and with multiple pit stops left, Busch was going to have a tough time getting out of his pit box and up to speed. The car felt like it would be on the verge of breaking down, but Busch kept at it. With no other strategy to play, Busch's team made sure he was topped off on fuel right as the race was restarting with 44 laps to go, right on the edge of the fuel window. Busch had to ride around while the other teams ran full blast and would have to make one final stop. Busch had enough to make it to the end and pick up his second victory of the season.

Marcus Ericsson: From air to first at Nashville
Mistakes happen, and early in the inaugural Music City Grand Prix, Ericsson ran over the back of Sébastien Bourdais coming to a restart, breaking his front wing and launching his front wheel off the ground. Ericsson even thought his day was over. He was ready to retire the car as the damaged front wing was stuck under the front tires. But the wing came free, and Ericsson was able to drive around to the pit lane for repairs. 

Ericsson was nearly caught in the Simon Pagenaud incident in turn 11 but kept the car running again. Set behind, Ericsson had one strategy, to take fuel and hope for the best. The disjointed nature of the race put Ericsson in the lead and cautions help his fuel mileage. He was close to needing to make one more stop in the final laps as Colton Herta chased him down, but when Herta collided with the barrier in turn nine and brought out the final caution, Ericsson's fuel concerns were gone. The Swede held on in the final two lap sprint and Ericsson had his second victory of the season.

Lewis Hamilton's British Grand Prix
Picking up the story, Hamilton was handed a ten-second penalty for the contact with Verstappen. This dropped Hamilton to fourth, 12 seconds behind leader Charles Leclerc. Hamilton passed Lando Norris soon after the stop and then teammate Valtteri Bottas to get back to second. 

Hamilton chipped away at Leclerc's lead, but any pass was going to come in the final laps. Leclerc held on for 49 laps, but into Copse of all places, Hamilton made his move and came through clean on the other side in the lead. The Brit led the final three laps and took his first victory since Spain in May. The championship lead was slashed to eight points.

Lewis Hamilton's Hungarian Grand Prix
What did Hamilton do for an encore? A wet start at Budapest put all the cars on intermediate tires, but an early accident that took out Verstappen, Norris, Bottas, Leclerc and Lance Stroll brought out the red flag. When it was time to restart, the track had dried significantly. Every driver dove into pit lane for slicks, except for Hamilton. Hamilton restarted by himself on the grid and had to complete one lap on the intermediate tires before switching to slicks. 

Hamilton emerged in 14th. He made up some spots but switched to the hard tire on lap 19. Hamilton worked his way up to fourth before stopping again on lap 48 for fresh tires. Hamilton looked positioned to chase down the leaders Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel, but Hamilton struggled with Fernando Alonso for fourth. It took 12 laps for Hamilton to pass the Spaniard, getting the spot with five laps to go. Hamilton took third from Carlos Sainz, Jr. two laps later, but would fall 2.736 seconds short of victory. It was not enough for victory, but the recovery lifted Hamilton back to the championship lead. 

September Preview
My biggest failure this year has been keeping track of the MotoE season. I completely forgot about the first three races of 2021 and then accidentally stumbled into the fourth round of the season at Assen. I then went on to forget about the Austrian Grand Prix round. 

One round remains in the MotoE season, a doubleheader at Misano on September 18-19. 

After forgetting about basically the entire MotoE season, I will give it space now. 

Eleven riders are alive for the championship with two races remaining. Italian Alessandro Zaccone leads the championship on 80 points. Zarccone won the opening race at Jerez and he has finished no worse than sixth this season. He was third at Le Mans and Assen, fourth at Barcelona and sixth in Austria. 

Zaccone has a seven-point lead over Brazil's Eric Granado. Granado is the only repeat winner this season, taking the rounds at Le Mans and Assen. He was second in Austria. Granado won pole position for the first four races and he has set fastest lap four times this season, but he was third at Jerez and retired at Barcelona. 

Defending MotoE champion Jordi Torres is eight points behind Zaccone. Like Zaccone, Torres has scored points in all five races, but Torres has yet to pick up a victory. He was second at Assen, third in both Spanish races, fifth at Le Mans and seventh at Austria. 

Not many riders in the 21st century switch between classes, but Dominique Aegerter is doing that. The Swiss rider is currently fourth in MotoE, 11 points off the top spot, and he leads the World Supersport championship. While Aegerter has eight victories in Supersport, he has yet to win in MotoE, but had runner-up finishes in the Spanish rounds and was third in Austria. He was fourth in Le Mans but finished outside the points in 18th at Assen. Unfortunately, Aegerter has a clash with the MotoE final weekend and the Barcelona weekend for World Supersport. Where will he race? We will have to wait and see; my gut says the Supersport weekend. He leads that championship by 47 points with provisionally 12 races remaining.

Red Bull Ring winner Lukas Tulovic is 27 points off Zaccone. Austria was Tulovic's first podium finish of his MotoE career. The 2019 MotoE champion Matteo Ferrari has scored in all five races, but his only top five finish was fourth in Assen, and Ferrari has 48 points. Miquel Pons won in Barcelona, but his next best result was fifth at Jerez and he did not start at Le Mans, leaving Pons with 46 points. Mattia Casadei missed Austria due to testing positive for COVID-19. Casadei's best finish was second at Le Mans and he has 43 points.

Yonny Hernández has scored in every race, but only has 40 points with one top five finish. Hiraki Okubo also has only one top five finish and has 35 points. Fermín Aldeguer is the final rider alive for the championship on 33 points. Aldeguer won pole position in Austria and picked up his best finish of the season in fourth. 

Consider MotoE caught up and we will find out who claims that championship on Sunday September 19. The first race from Misano will be at 10:20 a.m. ET on Saturday September 18. The finale will be the following day at 9:30 a.m. ET, after the MotoGP race.

Other notable events in September:
Final three IndyCar races: Portland, Laguna Seca, Long Beach. 
NASCAR playoffs begin: Southern 500 at Darlington, Richmond, Bristol. 
Zandvoort finally gets its Formula One return and that is after an embarrassing Spa-Francorchamps weekend, and the week before Monza. 
The European Le Mans Series has its penultimate round of the season at Spa-Francorchamps, hopefully it doesn't rain too much.
Along with MotoGP's trip to Misano as MotoE's undercard, MotoGP gets to headline the Aragón weekend.
Three rounds for the World Superbike: Magny-Cours, Barcelona and Jerez.

Monday, August 30, 2021

You Were Always Going to be Angry

The shortest race in Formula One history does not have a silver lining. After a persistent deluge hung over Spa-Francorchamps, delaying the Belgian Grand Prix for many hours, Formula One's decision to fulfill the minimum standards for a championship event with no interest to go beyond the two-lap minimum has left everyone feeling hollow. Max Verstappen got the victory, George Russell got his first podium finish and Lewis Hamilton retained the championship lead, but no one had much to celebrate after this one.

Unlike the previous shortest race, the 1991 Australian Grand Prix, there will be no funny anecdotes about this one. There is not much we can draw from Russell's and Williams' podium day. No one survived and ended up ten positions up the grid. There were no moments beyond watching the rain fall and constant television graphics with an update saying to expect an update ten minutes from then.

The 2021 Belgian Grand Prix was a glorified qualifying session that was awarded race points.

We cannot control the weather, but we can control our decisions based on the weather. It was clear no decision was going to be the outright correct decision for this race. Race control had to balance safety concerns for the drivers while also upholding a race fit for the world championship. It also had to decide whether no race would be held at all and do something we had never seen before. Regardless, we saw unprecedented decisions and an unprecedented race that was unsatisfying and has left many quite irate.

But let's be honest, you were always going to be angry with how the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix played out.

Race director Michael Masi could have decided to play the race out, running behind the safety car from the start, drawing the ire of a global audience as laps ticked off behind safety car driver Bernd Mayländer. Eventually, Masi could have decided to go green, whether that was after five laps, ten laps or 20 laps behind the safety car. They could have attempted green flag racing and gone until cars spun off at an alarming rate, which would again draw ire from the global audience.

But at least a substantial race would have gotten in. At least we would have seen green flag racing. It might have been five caution laps to four green flag laps. It could have been 20 caution laps to five green flag laps. Cars would have spun off, hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars worth of damage would have been done, and then everyone would have asked what was the point.

Masi could have let the clock run out and admitted a race was not possible on this day. It could have ended in a cancellation, a first for a Formula One grand prix with a full weekend of activity already completed. Even if it was done in the name of safety, Formula One would have been criticized for not trying. After seven decades of racing in the rain and racing through the worst conditions, from the 14-mile Nurburgring to Fuji to Adelaide and everywhere else in between, this was the breaking point. Formula One had finally reached the point of too much rain for a race to be held. People would have been furious, because compared to some of the historic wet races, including some at Spa-Francorchamps, Sunday in the Ardennes looked no worse than the rest of them.

Of all the possible outcomes, Masi chose the worst of them all. Merely going out to meet the minimum requirement for a race with no real intention of going beyond that is reprehensible. Cancelling the race would have been better than thinking two caution laps would have been adequate for the teams that spent countless hours preparing for this race and been better for those watching around the globe. People will easily accept that the weather would not cooperate. Running two laps and expecting the masses to be happy they saw a race without any attempt to go green is appallingly demeaning, especially after the decision had been made that the final attempt would be a one-hour race after all the delays.

With it already decided the race would be truncated, race control should have continued circling the circuit until enough confidence was there for the race to go green. After watching this mishap, it shows how different current race control handles the elements compared to the preceding decision makers.

The 2007 Japanese Grand Prix from Fuji did not look any different than what we saw from Spa-Francorchamps yesterday. The biggest difference is then-race director Charlie Whiting had the race start on time, even if it was behind the safety car. Through brutal conditions, Whiting ran 19 caution laps before deciding to wave the green flag. Drivers complained about the visibility. Some were certain it was not good enough to go, but after 19 laps of feeling out the conditions at a decreased pace, the race started. There were only two accidents in that race, one of which was Fernando Alonso's solo spin into the barrier. But the drivers managed and incredibly all 67 laps were completed just under the two-hour time limit.

We might not like watching cars circle behind the pace car, but compared to the events of Sunday from Belgium, the safety car leading is the preferable option. Sitting still will not make the circuit conditions any better. The wet weather tires are designed to pump out extraordinary amounts of water of the surface. When cars are not on the circuit, the puddles will only grow larger and larger. The only option to handle the problem is by running laps, even if at a reduced pace, otherwise we are not going to race.

There was no chance we were going to see a full satisfying Belgian Grand Prix and none of the options were pleasing. We were either going to see a safety car heavy race with likely a few accidents, but one where we could have seen some low-quality green flag racing and more than two total laps. We could have seen a cancelled race without an official race lap in the record book. Or we got what we got, a charade to fulfill the standards of a race but not fool anyone.

Pick your poison. Those were our choices.

Formula One's past is littered with unfulfilling races, whether those were races forced through inclement weather or marred by controversy. Another safety car heavy race would not have been an insult to the drivers, teams, and spectators. Yesterday was.

Masi has been ridiculed immensely since taking over after Whiting's sudden passing days before the 2019 season opener at Melbourne. While some of the criticism has been unfair, yesterday was his worst day in charge of race control and his actions are dismissible. Like it or not, he has put the integrity of the series in question. It was not an easy spot to be in, but he could not have handled it more pathetically.

Lessons will be learned and, if Masi was smart, every race under his watch from here onward would start behind the safety car regardless of the conditions outside of the track being in the middle of a hurricane, tornado, blizzard, or earthquake. Masi should have looked at his predecessor's decisions and made sure when it was time to go green, the race started even if it was behind the safety car for an extended period of time.

After a certain number of laps, it would then be time to rip off the bandage and try to get some green flag laps in, even if only a handful were completed.

In recent years, the red flag has been abused in Formula One. It has been a quick trigger to cover every incident to try and maximize laps run under green flag conditions. It has made what are just normal accidents appear to be more severe than they actually are. It is time for that to stop. In 2021 alone there have been five red-flagged races. There were three red-flagged races last year, bringing Masi's total up to eight. There were only eight red-flagged races between 2012 and Whiting's final race at the end of the 2018 season.

The Belgian Grand Prix was red-flagged before any car had spun or clattered into a barrier. Nothing had gone wrong and yet the race was stopped. It was done out of precaution but let's admit precaution does not make us happy. Until an incident warrants a red flag, a race should continue onward through the worst conditions. If Masi believed the conditions were not good enough after a four-hour delay, he should have never put the cars on track. A change in leadership is the only way to assure we will see a change in philosophy to allow a race to play out.

Changes need to be made, but admit it, none of the possible outcomes for this race would have made you happy. Any attempt at green flag racing would have eventually led to an accident and more caution laps. You would have been angry. The race could have been cancelled and after over four hours of waiting and getting nothing, you would have been angry. Then there is what happened, a pity race that ran to the letter of the law but following procedures do not quite fill you with joy, now does it?

Formula One will bounce back. You will be back. This black eye will hang around for a long time. It will haunt every rainy race morning for an indefinite period. Procedures will need to improve. Even if improvements are made, remember that does not mean you will be satisfied.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Musings From the Weekend: What Does It Mean to be the Best?

The motorsports world mourned the passing of Robin Miller. Mother Nature won the Belgian Grand Prix, but the record book will say Max Verstappen won the shortest grand prix in Formula One history. Eau Rouge had itself a weekend. George Russell should be in a Mercedes at Zandvoort. Another new American is on the Formula Three grid and Americans were finishing on the podium in Belgium. It rained again in Daytona. MotoGP and IndyCar both already had a Rossi and now they both have a Dixon. Super Formula returned from its extended Olympic break. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking. 

What Does it Mean to be the Best?
Kyle Larson has made a statement this summer, really this entire year, but his exploits over the last few months has caught everyone's attention. 

Larson won on the first day of summer at Nashville Superspeedway. It was his fourth NASCAR Cup victories of the season and his third consecutive, fourth consecutive overall when you take into consideration his All-Star Race victory. And that was just his day job. 

On the side, Larson started the year with his second consecutive Chili Bowl victory. He branched out into dirt late model racing this year and won the Winter Nationals in Florida in January. At the end of July, he won the Prairie Dirt Classic, one of the top events in that discipline. He won two races during Pennsylvania Speedweek. The night after Larson won the Coca-Cola 600, he won his first World of Outlaws event of the season at Lawrenceburg Speedway in Indiana. He won the King's Royal in the middle of July and last week Larson picked up the biggest victory of his career at the Knoxville Nationals.

Between his NASCAR Cup success, leading the championship and having the most victories, Larson's incredible dirt record has led many to crown him the best around today. Not the best NASCAR driver, but perhaps the best driver in the world. 

After his Knoxville victory, Larson was quickly mentioned in the same breath as A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. Many struggled to come with a better contemporary comparison, though Tony Stewart and even Juan Pablo Montoya were mentioned. 

It is easy to become a prisoner to the moment and make knee-jerk proclamations. Larson is doing something unprecedented, and it is great to see firsthand. For all the NASCAR drivers that have come from dirt backgrounds, none of the big names won the Knoxville Nationals, prior or during a Cup career. The only other Knoxville Nationals winner with a prominent NASCAR Cup career is Dave Blaney, whose NASCAR career started a few years after his Knoxville triumph. 

But perspective is important, and while Larson's success is incredible, the world of motorsports is vast. What does it mean to be the best? 

One of the first names that came to my mind after Larson's Knoxville weekend is Naoki Yamamoto. To many outside of Japan, Yamamoto is an unknown. You may remember Yamamoto driving for Scuderia Toro Rosso in a Friday practice at Suzuka a few years ago. Besides that one Formula One visit, Yamamoto is coming off winning the Super GT and the Super Formula championships in 2020. He did the same thing in 2018. One of Yamamoto's rivals, Nick Cassidy won the 2017 Super GT championship and was runner-up in the following two seasons. In Super Formula, Cassidy was runner-up to Yamamoto in 2018 before winning the title ahead of Yamamoto in 2019. 

For equivalence's sake, Yamamoto accomplished winning the IndyCar championship and IMSA Daytona Prototype international championship in the same year... twice. Meanwhile, Cassidy did the same thing and was basically Yamamoto's equal over a four-year period.

In the United States, nobody knows who Yamamoto is. Cassidy has moved to Formula E and he ran the 2019 24 Hours of Daytona, one of his few American experiences. Neither driver would be considered for best driver in the world, and yet their accomplishments are not being repeated elsewhere. How many drivers have topped a major open-wheel series and a major sports car series at the same time? 

While Larson has done something unprecedented, earlier this year, Hélio Castroneves accomplished another unprecedented feat. Castroneves won the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year. Indianapolis just happened to be his fourth victory in the famed event, putting him level with Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for the all-time record. Castroneves has also done all this as the reigning IMSA Daytona Prototype international champion. 

Sébastien Buemi has spent the better part of the last decade splitting his time between the FIA World Endurance Championship and Formula E, and Buemi has been one of the best in both championships. Buemi has two World Endurance Drivers' championships and one Formula E championship. He is the all-time leader in Formula E victories with 13, and he has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times.

And then there are the likes of Scott Dixon. Six IndyCar championships, 51 IndyCar victories, three-time overall winners of the 24 Hours of Daytona, plus a class victory at Daytona, and a Petit Le Mans victory. Lewis Hamilton has won six world championships and is pushing 100 grand prix victories. Fernando Alonso has bridged the single-seater/sports car divide, won world championships in both disciplines, with two Le Mans victories, two Monaco victories and a 24 Hours of Daytona triumph. Sébastien Bourdais has four IndyCar championships and 37 victories, but he also has overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring with a class victory at Le Mans.

How do you determine who is greater among the nine drivers mentioned above? And it has only been nine drivers mentioned. There are plenty more out there that deserve to be in the discussion. 

How do you split open-wheel and sports car success compared to stock car and dirt racing? How do you split regional or domestic championships from international championships? How do you rate drivers who only compete in one discipline versus those who run multiple? There is no weight system. You cannot go to the back of a composition notebook and find a conversion table for all these things. We use our gut to decide out what feels right when it comes to deciding the best, our famously unreliable and unscientific guts. 

Success is a given to be considered the best, cross-discipline success is a boost, but time is another thing. Success needs to be a habit to be considered the best. Larson has been winning on dirt his entire life. NASCAR success has been harder to come by, but he has been one of the top drivers for the last few years. He also has a 24 Hours of Daytona victory, but his sports car participation was brief and stopped a few seasons ago.

We live in the moment, but the moment changes. Larson is currently considered as one of the best around, but a rough patch will quickly take him out of that spotlight. Everyone thought Kevin Harvick had a historic season going last year in NASCAR and then he failed to make the championship race. If Larson's season follows a similar path, these discussions will go dormant for a while. There will also be the pressure to replicate this success in the future. He likely will not all win the exact same events year after year, but to retain the status he has to win the big events on a consistent basis and be a consistent championship threat, otherwise 2021 will be remembered as a flash in the pan. 

To be the best you must do more. The unprecedented is still great, but while Larson has been compared to Tony Stewart, Stewart has three Cup championships. Larson has zero. Stewart has an IndyCar championship. Larson has zero, and likely will always have zero. Larson is still young, but to be the best he needs to change some of those zeros, and in time he will. 

We must remember what it means to be the best is a fluid. There is not one checklist or one path for the reaching this subjective mountain top. There will never one consensus answer, but we will continue to search for the one that fits best.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Max Verstappen, but did you know...

Lorenzo Colombo won the first Formula Three race from Spa-Francorchamps, but Jack Doohan won the other two.

Ryan Blaney won the NASCAR Cup race from Daytona, his second consecutive victory and third of the season. Justin Haley won the Grand National Series race, his first victory of the season.

Fabio Quartararo won MotoGP's British Grand Prix, his fifth victory of the season. Remy Gardner won the Moto2 race, his fourth victory of the season. Romano Fenati won the Moto3 race, his first victory of the season. 

The #3 K-Pax Racing Lamborghini of Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper and the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW of Robby Foley and Michael Dinan split the GT World Challenge America race from Road America.

The #34 Bimmerworld Racing BMW of Bill Auberlen and James Walker and the #119 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW of Sean Quinlan and Gregory Liefooghe split the GT4 America races from Road America. James Sofronas and Andy Wilzoch split the GT America races. 

The #32 Team WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts and the #6 Toksport WRT Mercedes-AMG of Maro Engel and Luca Stolz split the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup races from Brands Hatch.

Tomoki Nojiri won the Super Formula race from Motegi, his third victory of the season.

Reece Gold, Artem Petrov and Hunter McElrea split the Indy Pro 2000 races from New Jersey Motorsports Park. Kiko Porto, Myles Rowe and Nolan Siegel split the U.S. F2000 races.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Southern 500.
Zandvoort finally returns to the Formula One schedule. 
The 6 Hours of Nürburgring will be the penultimate round of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Series.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters visits the busy Red Bull Ring. 
World Superbike moves on to Magny-Cours.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Let's Look at the League: August 2021

IndyCar has hit its final period of downtime in the season. After three consecutive weeks of racing in August, the series has two weeks off before finishing with three consecutive weeks of racing in September. 

While that is the reality of the schedule, let's look at the hypothetical and have our second update on the IndyCar League format. We last looked at it in June, and this is how each league looked after Road America: 

League One
Conference One

1. #5 AMSP (7-2)

2. #9 Ganassi (7-2)

3. #27 Andretti (5-4)

4. #22 Penske (5-4)

5. #12 Penske (5-4)

6. #21 ECR (3-6)

7. #29 Andretti (2-7)

8. #18 Coyne (2-7)

Conference Two

1. #30 RLLR (7-2)

2. #2 Penske (6-3)

3. #51 Coyne (5-4)

4. #26 Andretti (5-4)

5. #10 Ganassi (5-4)

6. #15 RLLR (4-5)

7. #28 Andretti (3-6)

#8 #7 AMSP (1-8)

League Two

1. #8 Ganassi (8-1)

2. #60 MSR (7-2)

3. #14 Foyt (6-3)

4. #20 ECR (6-3)

5. #3 Penske (5-4)

6. #48 Ganassi (2-7)

7. #59 Carlin (1-8)

8. #4 Foyt (1-8)


After Gateway, the regular season ended and what has transpired over the last two months has decided who has made the playoffs, who will be relegated from each conference, who has been promoted automatically from League Two and who will be participating in the promotion playoff. 

How did the results shake out over the final five weeks of the regular season?

League One Results

Week 10 (MID-OHIO):

#9 Ganassi vs. #18 Coyne (4 to 26)

#5 AMSP vs. #22 Penske (8 to 14)

#12 Penske vs. #29 Andretti (25 to 17)

#27 Andretti vs. #21 ECR (5 to 16)


#2 Penske vs. #10 Ganassi (1 to 3)

#26 Andretti vs. #30 RLLR (13 to 10)

#15 RLLR vs. #7 AMSP (6 to 23)

#28 Andretti vs. #51 Coyne (24 to 7)

Week 11 (NASHVILLE):

#9 Penske vs. #22 Penske (2 to 21)

#5 AMSP vs. #12 Penske (13 to 14)

#27 Andretti vs. #29 Andretti (17 to 3)

#18 Coyne vs. #21 ECR (6 to 24)


#2 Penske vs. #30 RLLR (10 to 25)

#26 Andretti vs. #15 RLLR (19 to 5)

#28 Andretti vs. #7 AMSP (4 to 8)

#10 Ganassi vs. #51 Coyne (7 to 16)



#9 Ganassi vs. #12 Penske (17 to 1)

#5 AMSP vs. #27 Andretti (5 to 4)

#22 Penske vs. #21 ECR (16 to 24)

#18 Coyne vs. #29 Andretti (14 to 22)


#2 Penske vs. #15 RLLR (8 to 7)

#26 Andretti vs. #28 Andretti (3 to 18)

#30 RLLR vs. #51 Coyne (10 to 2)

#10 Ganassi vs. #7 AMSP (27 to 13)



#9 Ganassi vs. #27 Andretti (8 to 7)
#5 AMSP vs. #18 Coyne (5 to 12)

#12 Penske vs. #21 ECR (1 to 23)

#22 Penske vs #29 Andretti (4 to 19)


#2 Penske vs. #28 Andretti (3 to 13)

#26 Andretti vs. #10 Ganassi (2 to 21)

#15 RLLR vs. #51 Coyne (9 to 14)

#30 RLLR vs. #7 AMSP (16 to 10)


Week 14 (GATEWAY):

#9 Ganassi vs. #5 AMSP (19 to 2)

#12 Penske vs. #27 Andretti (3 to 17)

#22 Penske vs. #18 Coyne (8 to 24)

#21 ECR vs. #29 Andretti (21 to 15)


#2 Penske vs. #26 Andretti (1 to 18)

#15 RLLR vs. #28 Andretti (23 to 7)

#30 RLLR vs. #10 Ganassi (6 to 20)
#51 Coyne vs. #7 AMSP (14 to 16)

Final League One Regular Season Standings
Conference One
1. #5 AMSP 11-3
2. #9 Ganassi 9-5
3. #12 Penske 8-6
4. #22 Penske 8-6
5. #27 Andretti 8-6
6. #29 Andretti 5-9
7. #18 Coyne 4-10
8. #21 ECR 3-11

Conference Two
1. #2 Penske 10-4
2. #30 RLLR 9-5
3. #15 RLLR 8-6
4. #51 Coyne 8-6
5. #26 Andretti 7-7
6. #10 Ganassi 6-8
7. #28 Andretti 5-9
8. #7 AMSP 3-11

League Two Results 

Week 10:

#8 Ganassi vs. #20 ECR (2 to 15)

#60 MSR vs. #4 Foyt (19 to 21)

#59 Carlin vs. #48 Ganassi (18 to 22)

#14 Foyt vs. #3 Penske (11 to 12)


Week 11:

#8 Ganassi vs. #4 Foyt (1 to 23)

#60 MSR vs. #59 Carlin (15 to 18)

#14 Foyt vs. #48 Ganassi (27 to 26)

#20 ECR vs. #3 Penske (12 to 22)


Week 12:

#8 Ganassi vs. #59 Carlin (9 to 20)

#60 MSR vs. #14 Foyt (6 to 15)

#4 Foyt vs. #3 Penske (26 to 23)

#20 ECR vs #48. Ganassi (11 to 19)

Week 13:

#8 Ganassi vs. #14 Foyt (6 to 18)

#60 MSR vs. #20 ECR (15 to 22)

#59 Carlin vs. #3 Penske (20 to 11)

#4 Foyt vs. #48 Ganassi (24 to 17)


Week 14:

#8 Ganassi vs. #60 MSR (9 to 10)

#59 Carlin vs. #14 Foyt (11 to 5)

#4 Foyt vs. #20 ECR (12 to 22)

#3 Penske vs. #48 Ganassi (4 to 13)

Final League Two Regular Season Standings
1. #8 Ganassi 13-1
2. #60 MSR 11-3
3. #20 ECR 8-6
4. #3 Penske 8-6
5. #14 Foyt 8-6
6. #48 Ganassi 4-10
7. #59 Carlin 3-11
8. #4 Foyt 2-12

What Happens Next?
We know the #8 Ganassi and the #60 MSR have been promoted after taking the top two spots in League Two. Relegated from League One will be the #21 ECR and the #7 AMSP.

The #27 Andretti and #26 Andretti are guaranteed safety in League One for finishing fifth.

But now there will be three brackets over the final three weeks. One will decide the overall champion, another will decide who stays up in League One and who will face relegation, and the other is the last chance at promotion for a League Two representative. 

Championship Bracket
Quarterfinals (Portland):
QF1: #5 AMSP vs. #51 Coyne
QF2: #30 RLLR vs. #12 Penske
QF3: #9 Ganassi vs. #15 RLLR
QF4: #2 Penske vs. #22 Penske

Semifinals (Laguna Seca):
SF1: QF1 winner vs. QF2 winner
SF2: QF3 winner vs. QF4 winner

Final (Long Beach):
Semifinal #1 winner vs. Semifinal #2 winner

Relegation Bracket
Semifinals (Portland)/(Winners stay up in League One):
RSF1: #29 Andretti vs. #28 Andretti
RSF2: #10 Ganassi vs. #18 Coyne

Final (Laguna Seca)/(Winner stays up in League One. Loser faces Promotion Playoff winner)
RSF1 loser vs. RSF2 loser

Promotion Bracket
Semifinals (Portland)/(Losers remain in League Two):
PSF1: #20 ECR vs. #48 Ganassi
PSF2: #3 Penske vs. #14 Foyt

Final (Laguna Seca)/(Loser remains in League Two. Winner faces Relegation Playoff loser):
PSF1 winner vs. PSF2 winner

Promotion Playoff Final (Long Beach)/(Winner gets final 2022 League One spot)
Loser of Relegation bracket final vs. Winner of Promotion bracket final

Can We Talk About Surprises?
In this crazy, fictional world, Álex Palou, who has led the championship for majority of this season, not only would not make the playoffs, but would have to be in the relegation playoffs and need to win at least one more time to assure the #10 Ganassi entry's League One safety. 

Rinus VeeKay, who won a race and has been in the top ten of the championship for majority of this season, would be relegated while one of James Hinchcliffe or Ed Jones will definitely be safe and there is a chance both stay up. 

Where did it go wrong for these two entries? 

For Palou, it didn't help his worst two weekends were the last two weekends of the regular season, but he has two victories and six podium finishes from 13 races. How is it that record lands him outside the top four of his conference? I am not sure you could have more bad beats. Palou lost the second Texas race finishing seventh with Colton Herta in fifth. He was third at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but he was paired with Romain Grosjean finishing second. Third at Mid-Ohio should be good enough, but it is not when you are paired against race winner Josef Newgarden. 

I don't know how many times a driver has lost despite finishing on the podium, it has likely happened before in the few years I have done this, but I am not sure anyone has had it happen twice in a season. It did for Palou.

As for VeeKay, it didn't help that he finished 16th or worse in his last five starts. Oliver Askew also ran the second Road America race. Askew went off strategy and that cost him a good finish and he lost to Scott Dixon. Focusing on VeeKay, he was sixth at Barber, but lost to Patricio O'Ward in fourth. VeeKay was ninth at St. Petersburg but lost to Scott Dixon in fifth. Eighth in the Indianapolis 500 wasn't good enough against Simon Pagenaud in third. Three losses with top ten finishes. VeeKay got a tough draw. 

Then you have the #51 Coyne entry, which ended up being Romain Grosjean for 11 races and Pietro Fittipaldi in three races. Fittipaldi went 1-2. Grosjean went 7-4. Grosjean's losses were 13th at St. Petersburg when Josef Newgarden was second, 24th in the second Belle Isle race when Herta was fourth, 16th at Nashville when Palou was seventh and 14th in Gateway qualifying while Graham Rahal was ninth. Grosjean also got a break winning with a 23rd in the first Belle Isle race when paired against Felix Rosenqvist. 

The #29 Andretti entry didn't make the playoffs, but how did the driver 19th in the championship with one top ten finish end up 5-9 while a race winner was relegated? James Hinchcliffe was 18th at St. Petersburg but won over O'Ward in 19th. Hinchcliffe was 21st in the Indianapolis 500 but won over Ed Jones in 28th. Hinchcliffe was 17th at Mid-Ohio but won over Will Power in 25th. Then Hinchcliffe's one good day at Nashville was a win in third with Alexander Rossi in 17th, and in the final regular season matchup, Hinchcliffe missed the start due to electrical issues, was two laps down and Jones got in an accident on lap two and was out of the race. Hinchcliffe inched up to 15th, though never being on the lead lap, but that was another win. VeeKay got a tough draw. Hinchcliffe got the fortunate draw. 

As for the three-way tie between the #12 Penske, #22 Penske and #27 Andretti, head-to-head, they were all 2-2 against one another. At that point it comes down to best finish of the season. Power has a victory; Pagenaud's best finish is third and Rossi only has a fourth. Rossi does not make the playoffs, but he is guaranteed safety, and the same is true for his teammate Colton Herta, as the #26 Andretti ended up fifth in Conference Two.

In the other conference, the #15 RLLR entry was 2-0 over the #51 Coyne entry and gets the third spot. 

What Should We Expect For the Playoffs?
Could the #1 seeds get tougher draws in round one? 

O'Ward vs. Grosjean and Newgarden vs. Pagenaud? 

Both are toss ups. All the matchups really are, but those in particular set up incredible outcomes. Grosjean could be sixth and O'Ward seventh. Newgarden could be fourth and Pagenaud could win. Neither of those results would be surprises. Grosjean has been the darling of the season. The Frenchman is fighting from behind for rookie of the year and has had multiple chances at victory this season. Meanwhile, Pagenaud could be on the way out at Team Penske and he has bumped into his teammates in recent weeks, including suffering damage to his front wing early at Gateway after hitting Newgarden, setting Pagenaud back in the early stages of the race. 

Dixon ended up positioned better finishing second in his conference and the same goes for Power in third. Both RLLR entries are respectable, but neither has had a spectacular race this season. You need to be good to beat either RLLR car, but you don't necessarily need to be great. They might finish ninth or tenth, but Dixon and Power could both be comfortably in the top five and not feel that much pressure.

On the relegation/promotion side, I have no read on the #29 Andretti vs. #28 Andretti matchup. That is a bad matchup. Neither team has been great this year and I don't expect either to be great at Portland. Palou should take care of business against Jones. It should be crisis averted early for him, but a third consecutive poor race would put him on the ropes, and it would significantly crush his Astor Cup championship hopes... you know, the trophy that actually matters. 

Then you have Conor Daly vs. Jimmie Johnson. Could Daly get a better matchup? It is Johnson from here on out in the #48 Gannasi Chevrolet. He needs to win three times to earn promotion. Johnson went 1-8 this year. His lone win was Nashville when Sébastien Bourdais was run over. If Daly doesn't win, it is an embarrassment.

Scott McLaughlin vs. Bourdais is another toss-up. On paper, it is Bourdais, but you cannot count on Bourdais this year, but it isn't entirely the driver's fault. McLaughlin, on the other hand, hasn't been great. This matchup is in the same ilk of the all-Andretti matchup on the other side of the bracket. Both cars could have bad days but one of them has to win.

Why not? This doesn't actually exist, this season has been all over the place and completely unpredictable, let's roll the dice and see what happens:

For Portland...

O'Ward over Grosjean, but both cars will be in the top ten.
Power beats Sato, and it is the most comfortable of the outcomes. 
Dixon beats Rahal, but both cars are in the top ten and it is fewer than four spots between them.
Newgarden has an actual championship he is chasing, he just won at Gateway and Pagenaud has another off day. Newgarden advances.

So... chalk for the championship bracket. Not sexy, but so be it.

Hunter-Reay edges out Hinchcliffe. 
Palou whoops Jones. 
Daly is 16th, but that is all you need to beat Johnson. 
Bourdais edges out McLaughlin, but these two are within two spots of one another. 

At Laguna Seca...

We get O'Ward vs. Power. Power was the second-best car at Laguna Seca in 2019. Tire wear could decide this race and O'Ward has struggled with tire degradation this season.  Give me Power. 

The other semifinal is Dixon vs. Newgarden. I will take Newgarden, but this could be one-spot between them, and they both could be in the top five. 

Hinchcliffe secures the #29 Andretti entry's spot in League One in a sloppy matchup with Jones. Both cars will likely be outside the top 15. 

Bourdais beats Daly comfortably. This could be Bourdais seventh and Daly 18th. 

And for the Laguna Seca finales...
Power vs. Newgarden. An all-Penske final. Newgarden goes for his third consecutive League One title, and could remain the only driver to win the league championship in the three years I have been tracking this thing, while possibly also racing for an actual championship. Power is out there for fun. The actual championship implications might dictate this and Newgarden might win by default, because Power could be running block, assisting his teammate to a championship. I will say Newgarden, but Power will be close. 

And for the final 2022 League One spot: Jones vs. Bourdais. Give me Bourdais, and a Foyt car is back in League One. 

We will come back after the season and square away these predictions while also previewing how the 2022 season is set up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Robin Miller 1949-2021

Robin Miller always made time for his fans

Nothing today has gone to plan. 

Robin Miller died, aged 71. 

I awoke from a three-hour snooze to the news I wish would have waited a few more years, if not a few more decades. I knew Miller had been battling leukemia and had gone through a rough patch this summer. Writing had become too taxing for him, and he took a break. He returned earlier this month but laid out his plans to move to Arizona later this year to be closer to his sister and the rest of his family. 

His sister Diane returned to Central Indiana to help take care of him over the last few months. Miller never married and never had children of his own. 

After the last few years battling cancer, this news didn't shock me, but it was startling to say the least, especially his blunt honesty, as only Miller knew how, about facing his own mortality and nearly dying back in July. 

Miller's return to writing also brought him back to the racetrack, Indianapolis Motor Speedway of course, for the Brickyard weekend. Praise God for the timing of events. At the Speedway, he was transported via golf cart around the facility, but he smiled for every photo and cracked wise in every interaction. 

I think everyone knew to savor those moments at the track. We didn't know how much time Miller had, but we knew he wasn't getting to any other racetrack this year. We knew in all likelihood he wasn't visiting the IndyCar paddock again in 2021. He wasn't in the condition to drive to Gateway or fly out west for the final three events. 

Perhaps things would have allowed for him to make another trip to Indianapolis in May for another Indianapolis 500. After over five decades of being a full-timer, I think Miller had done enough to graduate to Indianapolis one-off status. 

The beauty is his final race weekend was at Indianapolis. It might have been the road course, which he despised, and a shared weekend with NASCAR, whose presence at the Speedway he viewed as sacrilege, but there wasn't a better place for him to say goodbye. No other track did he love more than the greatest of them all, conveniently located in his own backyard. 

Miller loved the 2.5-mile oval so much was nearly banned from it under the Tony George regime. It never got to that point, but there was always contention between him and ownership during The Split. The boy in Miller, who fell in love watching Sam Hanks, Jimmy Bryan, Jim Rathmann, Tony Bettenhausen, Eddie Sachs and Rodger Ward risk life and limb pounding around on bricks, saw the downside and the detriment of The Split and the Indy Racing League. 

He was no fool pretending it was somehow better the names Penske, Newman-Haas, Ganassi, Andretti, Unser, Vasser, Zanardi, Moore and Rahal were not at the Speedway come May. The greatest race in his world had become a minor league affair and only one man was to blame.

Now, Indianapolis Motor Speedway presents an award named in Miller's honor and Tony George was in charge when it was created. Twenty-five years changed a lot. 

Miller finally got to be on the network broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 in 2019 when NBC took over the rights. It had been a long and tumultuous road to the top, one that at many points appeared to be shut down after numerous conflicts and terminations from many different companies. But Miller made it. 

Sadly, between his illness and the pandemic, Miller had one year on the broadcast. He contributed the last two years, but in voice only. 

Miller's voice has always been there, whether it was in print or on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain. As a child growing up with motorsports dreams, Miller, the infamous college dropout turned gambling junky and reporter, became a mother's worst nightmare for a son's role model. I saw the best and for the most part avoided the worst. 

I frequently wrote into his mailbag. At times it was a great place to just chat about racing. I didn't grow up in a motorsports family. There was no local short track in my life. There was not a parent that dragged me around, leading me to catch the bug. I was alone in my fandom. My gateway was the 21st century route of the internet and cable television. The day SPEED Channel popped up on the living television I was hooked, and Miller was the leading disciple. He showed passion for the best and worst that happened in IndyCar, and he was always taking comments from readers.

But the mailbag could be a bummer. It is tiring being angry. I wrote angry many times. There was a breaking point. I could only write so much and read so much discontent. As was familiar with the 2000s, many wrote in and said that was it. One IndyCar flub had pushed them too far and they were done watching. Many wrote that and were back the next week but looking at the television numbers and attendance plenty of people walked away. I never got to that point, but I did cool it with the mailbag. 

I always kept reading Miller's work. You could always count on him to have a scoop most weren't close to discovering. He could editorialize a heated or pivotal moment in the championship unlike the rest of them. If blood had boiled over in an IndyCar race on Sunday, you could not miss what Miller was going to write on Monday. 

In the last decade, we did see a change in Miller. To me, I found he expressed more openness to ideas he once bemoaned. He could see the plus-side in an IMS road course race. He accepted the aeroscreen and other safety changes. He saw the benefit of IndyCar and NASCAR working together, especially when both were fully under the NBC umbrella. He didn't change his point on everything, but over the last ten years, there was definitely a change in tone, partially because IndyCar had changed its tone. 

The last few seasons have been massive positives for IndyCar. We have seen Scott Dixon crack 50 victories and Will Power crack 40 victories. Josef Newgarden has become a multi-time champion. American drivers are more prevalent and more successful with the likes of Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta leading the way. International respect has returned to IndyCar. Fernando Alonso came and ran the Indianapolis 500 instead of the Monaco Grand Prix! Forgotten Formula One talent has stepped through the IndyCar door and found a home and one that loves them back. Marcus Ericsson and Romain Grosjean are happy here. IndyCar has also had likes of Scott McLaughlin, arguably the best driver racing in Australia, and Jimmie Johnson, one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, become IndyCar regulars.

Miller's final years saw IndyCar on an incredible rise. It was tough to be angry when all of the above happened. Were things perfect? Of course not, but it was hard to view IndyCar negatively when all this was happening. Miller got to see the record book re-written and American talent succeed in his final years at the track. Robin Miller's final Indianapolis 500 also happened to be Hélio Castroneves' fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. Not a bad one to end on.

IndyCar might still be a few oval tracks short of a sufficient amount, and USAC drivers might still deserve more opportunities, but the series Miller loved the most was at a high at the time of his final goodbye. 

My biggest takeaway from Robin Miller is to remain honestly passionate about what you love. Defend it when you feel it has been mistreated. Unapologetically profess that love. It is the only way to live. You may step on some toes but always make sure people know you care. 

My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Miller family, a family that includes drivers, mechanics, fellow writers, television personalities, Mug-n-Bun employees, dirt track hopefuls and jet-setting millionaires and a countless number of fans who read Miller's work along the way.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Musings From the Weekend: Scheduling Convergence

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the #7 Toyota. The LMP2 battle saw late drama and the #31 Team WRT Oreca-Gibson of Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi won the class. Ferrari swept the GTE classes with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Côme Ledogar winning GTE-Pro and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Niklas Nielsen, François Perrodo and Alessio Rovera winning GTE-Am.

Elsewhere in the world, Iowa is back on the IndyCar schedule. Michael Andretti might be buying into a Formula One team. Formula One will not be going to Japan. Maverick Viñales has officially parted with Yamaha and will not return for the manufacture in the 2021 season. Meanwhile, MotoGP has dropped Malaysia due to the pandemic. The World Touring Car Cup has completed revised its final portion of the season and will not leave Europe... unless you don't consider Sochi apart of Europe. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Scheduling Convergence
Hypercar's first Le Mans is in the books, and we are on the verge of an exciting period for global sports car racing. 

While only five cars, one of which is a grandfathered LMP1 machine, from three manufactures, one of which is a boutique automobile manufacture, competed in the top class this year, in the coming years we could see an explosion of cars in the top class thanks to global convergence between the FIA World Endurance Championship's Hypercar class and IMSA's soon to be introduced Le Mans Daytona h class. 

IMSA's LMDh class will debut at the 2023 24 Hours of Daytona. Acura, Audi, BMW and Porsche have already confirmed programs. There are expectations Cadillac, Ford and possibly even Lamborghini will enter the class. Hypercar has already snatched Toyota and Glickenhaus, but Peugeot and ByKolles have announced projects for next year. Alpine could be announcing a dedicated Hypercar entry soon and we know Ferrari will be back in 2023. 

In less than two years, we could have anywhere from eight to 12 manufactures competing for the overall victory at Le Mans. This year's smallest class with only five cars could conceivably balloon to 20 entries or more and potentially be the largest on the grid. Le Mans could be prototypes only with the LMH/LMDh class on top and LMP2 for Pro-Am entries.

There are a few things that will have to be ironed out as the two classes are two entirely different sets of technical regulations, but for the first time in a long time, the same cars will be able to compete for overall victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona and 24 Hours of Le Mans. One car will be able to compete for the endurance racing Triple Crown and run Sebring as well. This has not been the case in the 21st century. 

It is an exciting change considering where sports car racing has been for the last two-plus decades. While the LMP1 class was a normal sight in the American Le Mans Series, by the end of the 2000s, it was off the grid and exclusive to the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and its successor FIA World Endurance Championship. Audi's latest LMP1 beast went from native to North America to a rare exhibition. Toyota and Porsche were only one-time guests to the United States. The Grand-Am and ALMS merger has been glorious for North American sports car racing but having LMP1 participation limited to one round never felt sufficient.

They are two different classes, but they are effectively one. There can be cross-championship mingling we have not seen in the WEC-era. The only problem is we have no guarantee that will be the case. 

We will likely see LMDh manufactures fill the grid at Le Mans, but will the reverse happen at Daytona? Will Toyota and Ferrari spend January in Florida? 

There will likely be a few manufactures that do run split programs and have one or two cars in IMSA and one or two cars in WEC, similar to what Ford and Porsche had done recently with their GT programs. But a prototype program is different. Hypercar is more affordable than LMP1, but it is still an expensive program. The world championship is the objective for these manufactures, and we could see the world championship schedule change in the next few years. This year is only six rounds, and 2022 will be the same, but that is partially because of the pandemic. WEC will likely look to get back to eight rounds by 2023. 

With WEC likely to expand back to eight rounds, will any of the Hypercar programs have the resources to add another 24-hour race or a 12-hour race to their schedule? Will Hypercar programs form an additional full-time program for IMSA? Toyota and Ferrari have not signed up for IMSA. Peugeot does not sell cars in the United States, though it could rebadge its upcoming 9X8 Hypercar for IMSA. Dodge branding is one possibility. 

There will be LMH-LMDh convergence, but could schedule convergence come along with that? 

There are always going to be two championships and there will be a limit to each. No program will be able to do all 18-20 rounds between the two championships. There will likely be a few calendar conflicts that would make running both championships impossible. 

But can the two championships protect the big events?

Le Mans is Le Mans. That will be fine. But can Daytona and Sebring be boosted? 

The issue is we cannot have the two championships run congruently. We did that before with the American Le Mans Series and Intercontinental Le Mans Cup/WEC at the Sebring in 2011 and 2012. There were nine classes on the track. The podium ceremonies took almost two hours. We cannot repeat that. 

Thinking about a solution, I wonder if Daytona and Sebring could count toward the world championship, along with the other six or eight WEC races, but only the top six or eight events go toward a driver and entries score, and Daytona and Sebring would only be for LMH and LMP2. This would create an incentive for the manufactures to participate at Daytona and Sebring, but also allow teams to decide not to race if they didn't have the budget. It would not affect a team's championship hopes by skipping because a team's worst two or three results would be dropped. 

As for limiting it to LMH and LMP2, these are still IMSA races, and IMSA needs to look out for its grid. WEC's GT class will be moving to a GT3-based regulations in 2024, but we cannot marry two fields of 35-plus cars. LMP2 is already on the 24 Hours of Daytona grid, but that race does not count toward the full IMSA championship. Some IMSA LMP2 teams skip Daytona. The WEC LMP2 entries could participate and not shuffle out any IMSA teams. 

Looking at the Daytona entry list for this year, there were seven DPi entries, ten LMP2 entries and 19 GTD entries, a total of 36 cars. There will be more GTD entries with the creation of GTD-Pro, but there is room to play with. Let's say there are six more GTD entries, an increase to 20 cars in the LMH/LMDh class and an additional eight LMP2 entries, the grid would be on the high side at 63 entries, but there were 67 entries in the 2014 24 Hours of Daytona. The entry list did dip to between 50 and 55 entries from 2015 through 2018, and that might be a more realistic total if these were IMSA/WEC combination races.

Sebring could accommodate the extra teams as it has the new second pit lane, which was built for the Super Sebring weekend and the 1,000-mile WEC race. 

The 36 Hours of Florida could be the opening rounds for the WEC season on the prototype side. The teams could show up in Florida in January and stay through the middle of March before returning to Europe for the first European round at Spa-Francorchamps at the beginning of May. It would also give WEC the American presence without struggling to have its own event. Instead of trying to do something on its own, WEC could benefit from being on American's biggest sports car stage. 

It would likely mean the end for Super Sebring, or Super Sebring evolves and while the LMH and LMP2 cars run the 12 Hours of Sebring, the WEC GT teams could have their own GT-only endurance race. I don't think it would have to be 1,000 miles or six hours, but a four-hour race on Friday evening with 16-20 WEC GT cars would be a good companion event and still make it a Super Sebring weekend. 

While coming up with these hypotheticals, it is important to remember sports car racing is still evolving. We are not sure what the next generation LMP2 car will look like or if there will even be a next generation LMP2 car. LMH/LMDh might become so popular that LMP2 is no longer relevant and there is just a Pro/Am class for LMDh cars. WEC is adopting GT3, but it will likely be only amateur teams. The door has opened for many manufactures who could not compete in WEC previously. 

It is a crazy time, but it is thrilling for sports car racing. The next five years look destined to be something special. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden and Le Mans, but did you know...

David Malukas swept the Indy Lights races from Gateway. Braden Eves won the Indy Pro 2000 race.

Ryan Blaney won the NASCAR Cup race from Michigan, his second victory of the season. A.J. Allmendinger won the Grand National Series race, his third victory of the season. Sheldon Creed won the Truck race from Gateway, his second victory of the season. 

Kelvin van der Linde and Alex Albon split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from the Nürburgring. 

Scott Redding won the first two World Superbike races from Navarra and Toprak Razgatlioglu won the third race. Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea are tied for the championship leader with six rounds remaining. Dominique Aegerter swept the World Supersport races and has won eight of the last nine races.

The #23 NISMO Nissan of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won the Super GT race from Suzuka. The #244 Max Racing Toyota Supra of Atsushi Miyake and Yuki Tsutsumi won in GT300.

Gilles Magnus and Santiago Urrutia split the World Touring Car Cup races from the Hungaroring.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One is back from break with the Belgian Grand Prix from Spa-Francorchamps. 
MotoGP swings into Silverstone.
NASCAR concludes its regular season at Daytona. 
Indy Pro 2000 and U.S. F2000 visit New Jersey Motorsports Park, in a rare Road to Indy standalone event.
Super Formula returns from its extended Olympic break at Motegi. 
GT World Challenge America is at Road America.
GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup is at Brands Hatch.

First Impressions: Gateway 2021

1. Gateway was the only short oval on the 2021 IndyCar calendar. In recent seasons, Josef Newgarden has been the top short oval driver, but normally Newgarden could bank on Iowa to be a day where he leads over 100 laps and take a victory. With Iowa gone, it was do-or-die for Newgarden at Gateway. This has been a slightly underwhelming season for Newgarden. He easily lost two races in June, and yet, Newgarden remained in touching distance of the championship. 

On a night where eight drivers retired, including two of the top three in the championship, Newgarden picked the most opportune time to lead 138 laps and take his second victory of the season. The entire Team Penske organization looked strong from the start of the day in practice, but Newgarden has a feel for these races. He stayed in the top three for most of this race and used strategy to get to the lead. He was able to go a lap or two longer each stint and emerge from the pit lane in the lead. 

It helped Newgarden that Colton Herta broke a driveshaft while leading a little more than 71% into the race and Alexander Rossi hit the wall after 200 laps. But once in the lead, no one could overpower Newgarden. It is Newgarden's 20th career victory, and he is the 22nd driver to reach that milestone. As for the championship, Newgarden is in the fight. With three races to go and only 22 points behind off the top spot, Newgarden has the most momentum heading into the final three races.

2. While Newgarden leaves Gateway the race winner, Patricio O'Ward ended up second on the road, but with Álex Palou and Scott Dixon both taken out on lap 65, O'Ward's runner-up night gives the championship lead back to O'Ward. It was a 31-points swing in the championship and O'Ward exits Gateway up ten points on Palou. 

Once the Ganassi drivers were out, the championship was O'Ward's for the taking if he made smart decisions and kept the car on the track. O'Ward doesn't make many mistakes and he paced himself. The Andretti cars fell out and gave O'Ward another two spots. If O'Ward had finished fourth, it would only be a two-point lead, but it still would have pushed O'Ward in the right direction. 

O'Ward finishes the season as the top oval driver. To finish as champion, he will need his best three road and street course races. 

3. Team Penske had its best race of the season and it deserved two cars on the podium. Will Power started on pole position, his first of the season, and he didn't dominate, but he ran in the top five all race. We haven't seen many races where multiple Team Penske cars are consistently in the top five for an entire race. This season has seen one car have it and the other three not really be there. I am sure Power wishes he led more and was the one out on top, but after how the first 11 races went, the last two should make him happy.

4. Scott McLaughlin can breathe easy, as he finished fourth and the drought is over. McLaughlin has the ovals down pat. Every oval he is excited and up for it. I am not saying the opposite is true for road and street courses, but those have been more work for him. At times he has shown speed on them, but it doesn't work out. However, there were races where he is fighting from behind. I think he will get there. This is year one. We have to remember that. Exiting 2021 knowing he is comfortable with ovals is a great thing.

5. God bless Sébastien Bourdais. Bourdais did get run over tonight and he got a top five finish, his second of the season. Bourdais went off strategy from the start. He stopped under caution on lap 18 and it broke him away from the field. He always stopped with a clear pit lane and the final caution for Rossi's accident might have saved Bourdais. Instead of making his final stop under green and maybe sneaking out a top ten, Bourdais could stop under yellow and got to keep a top five position. Good for him.

6. Takuma Sato went off strategy as well, but his was a little perplexing. Sato was stopping a few laps before the window to make it on three stops. His third stop was around lap 185, about ten laps before the three-stop window opened. When the Rossi caution came out, I thought Sato might hope the cautions would save him and he could steal another one at Gateway. Instead, Sato took fuel to ensure a top ten finish and he got sixth. Sato wasn't great in this one, but he survived the attrition and strategy was in his favor.

7. I wish this race had gone green to the end because Ryan Hunter-Reay was most committed to the four-stop strategy. He stopped well outside the window and was set up for his final stop to either be right as the window opened with about 60 laps to go or Hunter-Reay could have run long and stop with about 30 laps to go and then had a sprint to the finish on fresh tires. I would have loved to see Hunter-Reay gone long and used fresh tires to his advantage late. With that said, I think he still would have ended up seventh. Maybe he would have been sixth. It is still a good result for Hunter-Reay.

8. Simon Pagenaud broke his wing on an early restart after contact with Newgarden. It set him back and he lost a lap. Fortunately, the cautions cycled Pagenaud back on the lead lap. He was stuck in the middle of the field all race, but he made up ground and finished eighth. All four Penske cars were in the top ten for the first time this season.

9. Marcus Ericsson really left something on the table tonight. Ericsson finished ninth, but this could have been a chance for him to take more points out of the championship lead. He started sixth and ran around the top five for most of this race. He did get caught out a little by the late caution. That probably cost him at least three spots. I am not sure McLaughlin, Bourdais and Sato would have finished ahead of Ericsson without that caution. Ericsson is 60 points back in fifth. Not bad, but if he had finished sixth, he is 54 points back. He is in it, but to really be in it, he needed to finish better than ninth.

10. Jack Harvey rounded out the top ten! I cannot say much more about his night. Harvey was quiet and he got another top ten result. For all the top ten results he lost this season, he can have this one with no complaints. 

11. Conor Daly's top ten streak ends at Gateway, but 11th isn't bad. It was a little disappointing he wasn't better, especially after his practice speed. He ended up starting 20th. He wasn't really a top ten threat. If it wasn't for all the attrition, I think he finishes outside the top fifteen.

12. Dalton Kellett was 12th, and yes, nine cars retired, but Kellett was spun from behind before the first restart when Ed Carpenter was a little too excited. It could have been night over there. Kellett did make any other glaring mistakes. He did pinch Romain Grosjean into turn three, which was questionable, but Kellett didn't do anything else stupid. For a portion of the race, a top ten was in order. He earned this 12th-place finish.

13. Thirteenth is disappointing for Tony Kanaan. Kanaan was not a factor in this one. I am not sure if the almost three-month break between starts hurt him, and even Ed Carpenter the only other oval-only driver, but I expect Kanaan would be a little better, arguably a shoo-in for the top ten, especially when nine cars retired. If you told me at the start of today that nine cars would be taken out of this race and Tony Kanaan would not be in any incidents, I would have said Kanaan would have definitely finished in the top ten and maybe even said Kanaan would be in the top five. I am not sure Kanaan spent a lap in the top ten tonight.

14. Romain Grosjean had a great 90 laps in this race. Then he struggled with cold tires, had about 10 shaky laps, and then had another 70 good laps before he repeated the cycle. If it wasn't for his struggles on cold tires, I think Grosjean finishes in the top ten. His handful of laps rebuilding confidence at the start of each stint cost him time and he was trapped a lap down on the Rossi caution. It was a respectable first oval start, but he has to get a better feel with cold tires. 

15. James Hinchcliffe had an electrical issue at the start, and he lost three laps immediately. He ended up finishing eight laps down, but I believe he pulled off track once he couldn't make up any more spots. 

Let's tackle the rest of the Andretti cars now, because this should have been a night with two Andretti cars on the podium and one of them as the winner. Colton Herta looked great and he was probably better than Newgarden tonight. Herta's driveshaft broke about ten laps before the final pit stop while he was leading. Rossi got in the marbles after his final pit stop while trying to hurry ahead of Newgarden and O'Ward when those two were on cold tires. 

These are too many errors. This was another race where Herta and Rossi are at the top of the field, and both come away as the bottom two Andretti cars. Herta couldn't buy a break at this point. Who has a driveshaft break while leading with less than 30% of the race left? And Rossi, I feel like he needs a new strategist. Rossi was one of the first cars to stop every stint and it never got him track position. He was frustrated being told to save fuel and then told to run faster. Rossi was set to save, but then got mixed messages. Every time we see Rossi do something slightly different on pit stops, whether that is stop a lap sooner or stop a lap later, he loses out. That's got to change. 

With the number of problems and mistakes, it must be institutional. Andretti Autosport really needs to clean up its act. Herta could have been a championship contender. Rossi still hasn't finished on the podium this season and has only led two laps. I don't think those two have lost it as drivers, both before the age of 30. This is a wasted season. 

16. Felix Rosenqvist also had a broken driveshaft and was 16th, ahead of Rossi and Herta. 

17. Let's cover the Álex Palou/Scott Dixon/Rinus VeeKay incident. VeeKay got into turn one a little too hot on one restart and clipped Palou, who spun into Dixon. Palou was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it has cost him the championship lead. 

But Palou was so positive afterward, I don't think he is unraveling. He is only ten points back with three races to go. Palou can easily get that back in one race. I think he will be fine, but he could not have asked for a worst two-race stretch in August. He was about 18 laps away from leaving Indianapolis last week with a 50-point lead. It flipped in a blink. 

For how miserable Dixon's season has been based on Dixon's terms, he is dangerous at 43 points back with three to go. Nothing suggests Dixon is going to catch fire in the final three races, but we aren't going to rule it out. 

18. This was VeeKay's third consecutive finish outside the top twenty and five consecutive finish outside the top fifteen. VeeKay just got the restart wrong, and it ruined his night, plus two Ganassi drivers. He has been funky since his broken collarbone, which kept him out of Road America. 

Speaking of funky, I am not sure Ed Carpenter should have been out there tonight. Carpenter ran over Kellett coming to a restart. I would have expected Kellett to do that, not Kellett be the victim of such a collision. And then Carpenter lost it all on his own. The oval schedule has not been the most rewarding in recent years, and four races is not a lot, especially when three of those happen in a 30-day span and the final one is nearly three months later. Carpenter is boom or bust when it comes to this schedule. There aren't many booms for him though.

19. Graham Rahal cannot catch a break at Gateway. Of all the drivers to get hit on lap two at Gateway, it just had to be Rahal. For a guy on the hot seat, only completing two laps is not what Ed Jones needed. The accident with Rahal was neither drivers' fault. It was a racing incident, but you need to complete more than two laps and get a finish if you are hoping to retain your ride. 

20. For a race where it took an hour and six minutes to complete 100 laps, it turned out to be a good race. If these guys could have just had their heads straight for the first 60 laps, we would have finished this race in two hours and four minutes instead of two hours and 24 minutes. 

I write it every year, I wrote it back in May after the accident at the start of the Texas race, IndyCar must revise its start and restart procedure. I will just say the Rahal/Jones incident and Carpenter's spin on his own will happen, but the contact with Newgarden and Pagenaud, which knocked debris onto the racetrack was avoidable. VeeKay was over his skis when he took out the Ganassi drivers. No one should be spinning out another driver coming to the green flag. 

IndyCar needs a procedure where the speed consistently builds and does not fluctuate. Everyone should maintain speed to the green flag. It happens too damn often for nothing to be done. The last straw should have broken five years ago, but it didn't. This must be fixed. It does not look good when the first quarter of the race has no rhythm. Once this race got started, it was a lot of fun, but it took over an hour for people to feel confident they were going to see anything worth a damn tonight. IndyCar cannot afford that. 

21. Since IndyCar returned to Gateway in 2017, I think this was the best race the track had. We need to keep in mind Gateway will never be passes on every lap and cars side-by-side for 12 consecutive laps and slipstream passes at the end each straightaway. It is a slow burn and if a car gets on a run, then it is great. Grosjean made passes tonight feeling out the air and running a half line higher than the rest. Herta and Rossi were hooked up and could make moves. 

It takes time to make passes here and the car must be stuck for a driver to confidently make moves. Tires were falling off at a greater rate than previous Gateway races. Cars could run a little more side-by-side, but it wasn't prolonged side-by-side periods. Hopefully, in the next two years the surface wears down and provides high tire-degradation to a point where everyone will make this a four-stop race because so much time would be lost stretching it to three stops. I can't guarantee that will be the case, but I hope we get to it. 

22. It is after midnight, and I had a lot to write after this race. That must mean it was better than average at a minimum. Now we get two weeks off before the three-week stretch to end the season. The championship is up in the air. Portland's return will be worth it.