Thursday, September 29, 2022

Best of the Month: September 2022

The sun shines differently in September. It shines for less, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun has already set on a few championships and it is setting on plenty of other series as well. But there is time left for many. They will get their day in due time. 

At this moment, we will reflect on what has happened before looking ahead to another sunset.

IndyCar Tidbits
It is autumn. IndyCar is over and will not be back again until March, a few weeks before spring. We know Will Power won his second championship and became the all-time leader in pole positions, Scott Dixon surpassed Mario Andretti in victories, Marcus Ericsson won the Indianapolis 500, Christian Lundgaard was Rookie of the Year and Colton Herta didn't get a Super License. 

We know that stuff. But what about the information you need to dig and dust for? The stuff you need to actually look for? The kind of stuff that isn't going to be mentioned on a race broadcast but is still fascinating nonetheless? What about that stuff? With the season behind us, it is time to look at the finer details from the 2022 IndyCar season.

The Champions' Numbers
Will Power's second championship came eight years after his first title. How many other drivers had eight years between championships? 

Mario Andretti has the longest span between championships, 15 years between his third title in 1969 and his fourth in 1984. Al Unser went 13 years between his first and second in 1970 and 1983. A.J. Foyt had eight seasons between his fifth title in 1967 and his sixth in 1975. That is rare company for Power to join.

It is a little more stunning when you take into consideration the only other times drivers went at least five seasons between championships are Tony Bettenhausen's seven-season slump from 1951 to 1958, Bobby Unser's six-season slump from 1968 to 1974 and Bobby Rahal going five seasons between titles in 1987 and 1992. 

That is only seven occasions in IndyCar history where a driver went five seasons between titles. That should make Simon Pagenaud a little nervous, as Pagenaud is now six seasons going on seven seasons from his lone title in 2016. 

As for Power's specifics, his one victory was the fewest for a champion since Tony Stewart in the 1996-97 Indy Racing League season. Power is the first champion with fewer than two victories since Gil de Ferran in the 2001 CART season.

But it is important to compare those seasons. Stewart won once in a ten-race season. De Ferran won twice in a 20-race season. Stewart and de Ferran each won 10% of the races, not a great total, but still 10%. Power won one in 17 races, a winning percentage of 5.88%. 

We all know the 1996 Indy Racing League season and its co-champions in Buzz Calkins and Scott Sharp, as the IRL's inaugural season was only three races consisting of Walt Disney World Speedway, Phoenix and the Indianapolis 500. Calkins won at Orlando, Sharp didn't win at all, but the IRL didn't have a tiebreaker, so both drivers were champions. 

Power's winning percentage was the lowest for a champion since Sharp's 0% in 1996, but removing that season for a moment, Power was the first champion with a winning percentage below 10% since Al Unser's 7.142%. Unser also won the 1983 championship with a winning percentage of 7.692%. Unser's two championships, Sharp's co-championship and Power's season are the only times since the formation of CART in 1979 that a champion won less than 10% of the races. 

However, Power was on the podium in 52.94% of the races, the highest podium percentage for a champion since Scott Dixon had nine podium finishes in 17 races over the 2018 season. No champion has finished on the podium in over 60% of the races since Dixon's 70.58% in the 2008 season, the first season after reunification. 

The Locals
Eight American drivers were regulars this IndyCar season with a total of 13 Americans starting a race this season. 

American drivers accounted for seven victories, five for Josef Newgarden with Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi splitting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course races. This is the fourth time in six seasons American drivers have won at least seven races and the sixth consecutive seasons with at least five American victories. 

From 2008-2016, American drivers combined for five victories or more in a season only twice, five in 2012 and six in 2015. 

This was the sixth time in eight seasons at least three different Americans won a race, but there have not been four different American drivers to win in a single season since the 2003 IRL season when five Americans won a race. Those Americans were Scott Sharp, Al Unser, Jr., Bryan Herta, Alex Barron and Sam Hornish, Jr. 

How Good Was Team Penske?
Team Penske was really good this season. It won the championship with Will Power. It won nine races total, five at the hands of Newgarden, three courtesy of Scott McLaughlin's sensational sophomore season and Power won the Penske promoted race at Belle Isle just to boot. 

The drivers went first, second, fourth in the championship. Not bad, but Team Penske did that in 2016 with Pagenaud, Power and Hélio Castroneves, so it is kind of old hat for the team and back in 1994, Team Penske went 1-2-3 with Al Unser, Jr. Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy. In that case, 1-2-4 isn't that impressive. 

The 2016 group won nine of 16 races, the same total as 2022, but 2022 had a lower winning percentage thanks to that extra race. The 1994 team won 12 of 16 races, a greater total and greater percentage. The 1994 team had 29 podium finishes, 2016 had 22 and 2022 had 22 as well. The 1994 team swept the podium five times, something the 2016 team and 2022 team didn't do. In 2016, Penske did have four 1-2 results, but the team only had two 1-2 finishes this past season. The 2016 team earns top honors in pole positions with 11 to 1994's ten and Penske only had nine pole positions in 2022.

Perhaps the greatest difference in these three Penske seasons is Team Penske won the 1994 Indianapolis 500. Team Penske did not win the 2016 nor 2022 Indianapolis 500s. Its best finisher in 2016 was Will Power in tenth. This season it was Newgarden in 13th. I think Roger Penske would take that into significant consideration if he were to weigh in on this debate.

Still good, but let's slow our roll on treating 2022 as Team Penske's greatest season ever. 

But another way to take into consideration would be to look at the championship through another lens. If IndyCar had the 9-6-4-3-2-1 points system that Formula One used from the 1961 to 1991 seasons, entering the finale, Josef Newgarden would have had 51 points, Scott McLaughlin would have had 51 points and Will Power would have had 51 points. 

We would have gone into the finale with all three Penske drivers tied on points and only the Penske drivers would have been alive for the championships. It would have been "may the best Penske driver win" for the title. The 2022 season might not have been the greatest collection of numbers for Team Penske, but in terms of total team control, 2022 has a case. 

Dixon vs. Newgarden
It was a historic season for IndyCar. The most notable achievement was Scott Dixon surpassing Mario Andretti for second all-time in victories. Now there are only 14 victories between him and A.J. Foyt in the record book. 

But there was another impressive milestone partially ignored this season. With five victories, most in the series, Josef Newgarden reached 25 career victories, the 17th driver to reach that milestone. Newgarden is only 31 years old and turns 32nd on December 22. 

Newgarden has been around for a few minutes, but he has a lot of time left in his career. At the end of the 2022 season, Newgarden sits on 181 starts. With nearly half of Dixon's win total, how doesn't Newgarden's hit rate through 181 starts compare to Dixon? 

Dixon Newgarden
Victories 23 25
Podiums 62 47
Top Fives 85 70
Top Tens 127 112
Pole Positions 15 15
Laps Led 3,446 3,381
Laps 27,400 22,240
Championships 2 2
Age at 181st Start 31 years, 16 days 31 years, 8 months, 20 days

How about that? Pretty even, but Newgarden is ahead of victories at an identical part of their careers. 

I think we need to consider the different quality of fields these two drivers competed against in their first 181 starts. Let's establish that Dixon's 181st start was the 2011 Mid-Ohio race. That is six races before Newgarden made his debut. Dixon ran during the split for the first seven seasons of his career. There was a point where Dixon was only competing against 17-19 other cars. The smallest field Newgarden has ever raced in during his IndyCar career is 21 car. We forget the first two seasons of the DW12 chassis had two-dozen cars at every race and the grid has grown back to that level and beyond in recent years. 

The field size accounts for the disparity in podium finishes, top five finishes and top ten finishes. We also have to acknowledge Newgarden spent more time with smaller teams. He ran with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/CFH Racing/Ed Carpenter Racing for the first five seasons of his career, his first 83 starts to be specific. Dixon spent the first 23 races with PacWest Racing and he has been with Chip Ganassi Racing ever since. 

Both drivers have had their down periods in terms of equipment. Dixon was strapped with the beleaguered Panoz-Toyota combination for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Newgarden started his career with Honda when Chevrolet came out like gangbusters at the start of the DW12-era. Newgarden has led 65 fewer laps than Dixon through 181 starts, but Newgarden has run 5,160 fewer laps. On percentages, Newgarden has led 15.202% of the laps he has completed to Dixon's 12.576%.

We must remember Dixon ran in the Indy Racing League and ran only ovals in 2003 and 2004, and the IRL was still a predominantly oval series through the 2010 season. Newgarden never had a season with 16 races all scheduled to be at least 200 laps in length. 

It has been an honor to watch Scott Dixon race, but we are also witnessing something great with Newgarden and we have something to watch for over the next decade.

Rossi Retrospective
Laguna Seca marked the 114th and, for the moment, final time we will see Alexander Rossi drive for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar competition. A relationship formed at a crossroads, Rossi entered IndyCar after a sampling of Formula One with the Marussia organization and Andretti Autosport and Bryan Herta Autosport merged to keep an entrant on the grid. 

Rossi started in a black-and-white livery only to pick up NAPA Auto Parts sponsorship for the Indianapolis 500 and Belle Isle in a short-term deal to cover the final three races that would be broadcasted on network television in the United States that season. Five hundred miles and an epic fuel conservation stint later, Rossi laid down the foundation for the next six years. 

The NAPA colors are now familiar on the IndyCar grid and tied to Rossi. Rossi went from American Formula One hopeful who got there but circumstances meant he couldn't stay to IndyCar lightning rod, quickly becoming one of the most competitive drivers in the series. He pushed for the championship in 2018 and 2019, but slid the last three seasons leading to this exit and move to Arrow McLaren SP. 

This is a big change for Rossi and the Andretti Autosport organization. Rossi was the top driver in the championship in five of his seven seasons and his worst championship position was 11th. 

Since becoming Andretti Green Racing in the 2003 IRL season, Rossi has the fourth most starts with the team behind only Marco Andretti (250), Ryan Hunter-Reay (198) and Tony Kanaan (131). Rossi is tied with Dario Franchitti for third most victories in the organization on eight, behind only Hunter-Reay's 15 and Kanaan's 14. Rossi is third in podiums, his 28 only trailing Kanaan's 49 and Hunter-Reay's 42.

A championship is the only thing missing from Rossi's time with this group. Perhaps if the cautions had fallen differently at Portland or he avoided contact at the start of Sonoma this moment would be different for both driver and organization. Though the Astor Cup is missing from the collection, Rossi's time at Andretti Autosport will be remembered for the years to come.

Speaking of Alexander Rossi, back in June when we did a look at IndyCar tidbits halfway through the season I put on the radar the possibility of a driver finishing all 17 races in 17 different positions. 

By golly, Rossi did it! Seventeen races, 17 different finishing positions. 

20th, 27th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 5th, 2nd, 3rd, 19th, 23rd, 13th, 18th, 1st, 4th, 25th, 7th, 10th. 

I can hardly believe it happen. Each time I look at the results I carefully read each one thinking there has to be a repeat in there, but none is there. 

This nearly didn't happen. Entering the final race, Rossi had finished in each of the top five positions and in eight of the top ten spots. Sixth and tenth were the only two remaining. He also could have finished this off with a 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 21st, 22nd, 24th or 26th to go 17-for-17.

Rossi qualified third, so not a promising start for this piece of history, but Rossi had a lot of bad luck this year and there were still four spots outside the top twenty in play. He moved up to second at the start, so that wasn't helping the cause and he remained in a unsatisfying position for the sake of this piece of trivia until lap 14 when he returned to the track in 14th after his first pit stop. 

But after the first pit cycle Rossi settled around eighth and then he was driving forward. He got up to sixth for laps 23 and 24 before taking fifth. He dropped back to sixth just prior to this second pit stop. When the caution came out for Callum Ilott's stranded race car, Rossi was positioned in 12th, so that was good for us. He then dropped to 13th at the restart. That was bad. Late in his third stint, Rossi was climbing forward, 12th on lap 50, 11th on lap 52, ninth on lap 54, eighth on lap 58 and he stalled out there before the final round of pit stops began. 

Once the field was done with pit stops Rossi was eighth on lap 73 with 22 laps to go. Rossi either needed to gain two positions or lose two positions. Either was fine with me. Rossi remained in eighth until lap 84 when he overtook Patricio O'Ward. He just needed one more spot, but on lap 92, Scott McLaughlin took seventh from Rossi. Two laps later, Rossi was dropped to tenth with Patricio O'Ward and Marcus Ericsson moving up the order. 

At the checkered flag, Rossi was in tenth, 2.7 seconds behind Ericsson and 2.3 seconds ahead of Colton Herta. 

What did Rossi achieve? 

He is the first driver to finish every race in a different position since Eddie Cheever went 13-for-13 in the 2001 IRL season. Dating back to the 2021 season finale, Rossi has finished the last 18 races in 18 different positions. I don't have all the data, and this could be incorrect, but this has to be one of the longest stretches in IndyCar history without a driver repeating a finishing position. Cheever had a 15-race stretch when you take into consideration the 2000 season finale and 2002 season opener. Ed Jones had 15 different finishing positions in the first 15 races of his IndyCar career during the 2017 season. 

This means absolutely nothing but is fascinating nonetheless.

Palou vs. The Field
Álex Palou thrashed the field at Laguna Seca. It was the beatdown of beatdowns to close out the 2022 season. 

Palou was 30.3812 seconds clear of Newgarden at the finish line. How rare was such a large victory? 

It was the largest margin of victory since Mark Dismore lapped the field in the 1999 Texas season finale for the Indy Racing League! This was only the 14th time in 251 races since reunification that a margin of victory was greater than ten seconds. It was only the fourth time in that span the margin of victory was greater than 20 seconds. Those races are below. 

Mid-Ohio 2009 (29.78)
Kentucky 2010 (13.16)
Baltimore 2011 (10.21)
Belle Isle I 2013 (12.971)
Barber 2016 (13.748)
Watkins Glen 2016 (16.531)
St. Petersburg 2017 (10.351)
Belle Isle II 2018 (11.355)
Mid-Ohio 2018 (12.829)
Long Beach 2019 (20.236)
Road America 2019 (28.439)
GP of Indy 2020 (19.947)
Harvest GP I 2020 (14.294)

When was the last time a driver won by 30 seconds or more and didn't lap the field? 

July 27, 1997! Alex Zanardi won the U.S. 500 by 31.737 seconds over Mark Blundell!

Palou was only 117 days old! 

How many IndyCar races have taken place between that Zanardi victory and Palou's? 


Entering the 2022 season finale, the previous 14 races that saw a green flag finish had a combined margin of victory of 24.3056 seconds. The average margin of victory was 1.736. Palou dropped a massive outliers into the data set and skewed the results. With Palou's finish, the average margin of victory ballooned to 3.645 seconds. 

There were only two other races this season with a margin of victory greater than the average, and those were the Iowa races when Newgarden won by 6.1784 seconds over Patricio O'Ward and then O'Ward won by 4.2476 seconds over Will Power. 

Seven of 15 races that took the checkered flag under green flag conditions were decided by a second or less, including five road/street course events. Throw out the Laguna Seca race and the road/street courses had a lower average of finish than the ovals by nearly a second and a half! Minus Laguna Seca, the average was 1.33419 seconds for the road and street courses. For ovals it was 2.740925 seconds! 

This is why the median is always important with a set of data, and the median margin of victory this season was 1.0027 seconds, telling a more accurate story of the 2022 season.

Most starts before first top ten finish
Not every record is one you want to have. Nobody really wants to own all the records. That means owning the bad ones as well. It is also highly unlikely a driver could possibly have the most race victories and also have taken the most starts to get a first career victory and then have the record for most starts between victories. You are talking about not winning for 130 races, then winning 68 times but somewhere in the middle of that streak going at least 125 starts without a victory. That career would need to be at least 322 races long, which would be the sixth most in IndyCar history, but all that is unlikely to happen in one career. 

The point being is not every record is good and one of those less stellar records is on the verge of being broken. 

Dalton Kellett ended the 2022 IndyCar season with 41 starts and no career top ten finishes. That isn't good. It is worse when put in context that the record for most career starts without a top ten finish is 43 starts at the hands of Milka Duno. 

Yikes. Not something you want to break. 

But it got me thinking? What is the most starts before a first career top ten finish? Kellett may not get a top ten result in his next three IndyCar starts, which would have him surpass Duno, but what if Kellett kept going and did get that first top ten finish? That record would return to Duno, but where would Kellett stand? 

I did this research, going through over 1,200 drivers who had a top ten finish in the races recognized in IndyCar's record book to find the answer. 

The truth is most drivers who get at least one top ten finish in their careers get a top ten finish on debut. It is a who's who of top ten debutants. All the greats had top ten finishes on debut. 

George Snider, Affonso Giaffone, Stevie Reeves, Shinji Nakano, Casey Mears, Felipe Giaffone, Joël Camathias, Patrick Lemarié, Alex Figge. 

The best of the best. 

About 55.278% of drivers with a top ten finish in their IndyCar careers had their first occur in their first start. 

But not everyone has a good first day. Sometimes they find their form on their second day. 

About 74.77% of the drivers get their first top ten finish in one of their first two starts. Those drivers include some pretty decent talents. 

Dick Simon, Roger Rager, Scott Atchison, Didier André, Hideki Noda, Enrique Bernoldi.

Lesser talent needs three races for that first career top ten finish. Some of these drivers you probably never heard of.

Johnny Rutherford, Jimmy Vasser, Hélio Castroneves, Sam Hornish, Jr., Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Marcus Ericsson, Álex Palou. 

See. Nobodies. About 83.642% of top ten finishers get their first in one of their first three starts.

Out of 1,241 drivers with at least one top ten finish, only 102 drivers took more than five starts to get their first career top ten finish. Only 31 drivers took more than ten starts.

Where does Kellett find himself?

I have some good news for him, no matter what he will be in the record book. 

It took Marco Greco 42 starts to get his first career top ten finish, the latest a driver has gotten a first career top ten finish, meaning even if Kellett finishes in the top ten of his next IndyCar start, Kellett will at least match Greco's record. Two starts or more and the record is his until someone else takes longer. 

But to get a sense how rare it is here are the drivers that took more than 15 starts to get a top ten finish in their IndyCar careers.

Marco Greco - 42
A.J. Foyt IV - 32
Sébastien Saavedra - 26
Arnd Meier - 24
James Jakes - 23
Matheus Leist - 22
Alex Barron - 21
Dominic Dobson - 19
Tyce Carlson - 18
Parker Johnstone - 16
Dennis Vitolo - 16
Josef Newgarden - 16

That is the list. Only two of those 12 drivers went on to win an IndyCar race. Barron won twice. Newgarden had a bad rookie season, but that one bad season didn't derail what was a great talent. 

The only other drivers to take more than ten starts for a first career victory who eventually won in IndyCar are Ed Carpenter (14 starts), Buddy Lazier (13), Mark Dismore (13) and Takuma Sato (11). 

Expand that to the drivers didn't get a top ten finish in one of their first five starts and the winners are André Ribeiro (10), Bob Sweikert (9), Michel Jourdain, Jr. (8), Gil de Ferran (7), Mike Conway (7), Sam Hanks (6), Bill Vukovich (6), Al Keller (6), Lloyd Ruby (6), Dick Atkins (6), Héctor Rebaque (6) and Mario Domínguez (6). 

That is 18 of 102 drivers. It is showing the first few races of a career are a good barometer for what a driver's career is going to look like. 

I am not sure anyone had high expectations for Kellett, but he at least has a shot at history if he returns to the track in 2023.

100 laps led in a road/street course race
We touched upon Álex Palou's dominant victory at Laguna Seca, but time isn't the only way a driver can dominate. Laps led show how long someone was at the front. The more a driver can pile up the more dominant he looks. 

With fewer laps on road courses, it is hard to stand out at times with laps led, but Scott McLaughlin lead 104 laps at Portland. Whoa! Most road and street course races aren't even 100 laps long. The century mark is a lot of laps to lead on most ovals. Only two of the last 12 Indianapolis 500s have seen a driver lead at least 100 laps and that is only half the race. McLaughlin led 104 of 110 laps, 94.54%.

That had me wondering, when was the last time a driver led 100 laps or more on a road/street course?

There aren't many opportunities where this could happen. St. Petersburg is the only other active road/street course event 100 laps or greater in distance. Most road/street courses are somewhere in the 70s and 80s. What is the answer?

A.J. Allmendinger at Portland on June 18, 2006. 

Allmendinger led exactly 100 of 105 laps on his way to his first career victory. It was a 18-car field and it was also Allmendinger's first race with Forsythe Racing after he was fired from RuSport after three races. That day Justin Wilson was second and Sébastien Bourdais was third. 

The only driver who was in that 2006 Portland race that was in McLaughlin's beatdown in 2022 was the driver who finished in last place over 16 years ago.

That driver? 

William Steven Power! 

For greater context, since 1946, there have only been 19 occasions of a driver leading 100 laps or more on a road/street course. 

The first to do it was Dan Gurney at Riverside on December 1, 1968. Michael Andretti did it six times in his career, twice in 1990, twice in 1991 and twice in 1992. 

Of those 19 occasions, 16 saw the driver leading 100 laps or more win the race. 

The three blemishes?

Roberto Guerrero led 111 of 112 laps at the Tamiami Park race to close the 1986 season. Guerrero led every lap until his car ran out of fuel and Al Unser, Jr. overtook the Colombian for the victory. It is the only occasion in IndyCar history where a driver led every lap in a race but the final one. 

The next time was two seasons later at the Meadowlands, where the race was 150 laps around a 1.217-mile course. Emerson Fittipaldi had led 107 of the first 110 laps before he had an accident from the top position in turn four. Al Unser, Jr. inherited the lead and led the next 27 laps before Mario Andretti took the top position. Andretti led 11 laps before his car broke down with two laps remaining, handing the lead and eventually victory back to Unser, Jr. Unser, Jr. was the only driver on the lead lap. Only ten of 25 starters took the checkered flag. 

The final occasion was the 1996 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Gil de Ferran led 100 of the first 101 laps but a mechanical issue forced de Ferran to relinquish the lead four laps from the finish. Jimmy Vasser took the top spot and victory. De Ferran limped home in fifth position. 

October Preview
The first day in October is Petit Le Mans, the 2022 IMSA season finale. A few championships will be decided. It will also be the final race weekend for the Daytona Prototype international class before the introduction of the LMDh specification, which will compete in the GTP class starting in 2023. 

It is a two-horse, Acura race in Daytona Prototype international. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura of Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor lead the championship with 3,066 points, 19 points ahead of the #60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura of Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis. 

The #10 Acura has won four times while the #60 Acura has only won the 24 Hours of Daytona, but it has five runner-up finishes this season. The #60 Acura also leads the Endurance Cup with 30 points, one point ahead of #10 Acura and two points ahead of the #5 Mustang Samplings Cadillac of Tristan Vautier, Richard Westbrook and Loïc Duval. Hélio Castroneves will join the #60 Acura for Petit Le Mans while Brendon Hartley joins the #10 Acura lineup after Will Stevens ran with the team at Daytona and Sebring. 

Acura has not won Petit Le Mans. Cadillac has won three of the last four Petit Le Mans, and Mazda won last year with Oliver Jarvis as one of its drivers.

In LMP2, there are four possible champions. John Farano leads with 1,640 points and Farano will share the #8 Tower Motorsport Oreca-Gibson with Louis Delétraz and Rui Andrade. Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel are second, 33 points back and the most recent winners at Road America. Indy Lights race winner Christian Lundgaard will join Merriman and Dalziel in the #18 Era Motorsport Oreca-Gibson. 

Steven Thomas is 93 points behind Farano, and Thomas will drive the #11 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca-Gibson with Josh Pierson and Tristan Nunez. Juan Pablo Montoya and Henrik Hedman have an outside shot at the championship, finding themselves 108 points off the top spot, and they will have Sebastián Montoya as their third driver in the #81 DragonSpeed Oreca-Gibson. 

The #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca-Gibson of Ben Keating, Mikkel Jensen and Scott Huffaker lead the Endurance Cup standings with 35 points. With the withdrawal of the #29 Racing Team Nederland Oreca-Gibson, PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports will clinch the Endurance Cup simply by starting Petit Le Mans. The #52 Oreca won Sebring and Watkins Glen and was fourth at Daytona. 

CORE Autosport leads the LMP3 championship with the #54 Ligier-Nissan of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett on 1,716 points and they will have 2022 GT America champion George Kurtz join the team for Petit Le Mans. Gar Robinson is 83 points back and he will share the #74 Riley Motorsports Ligier-Nissan with Felipe Fraga and Kay van Berlo. Garett Grist and Ari Balogh are 119 points back in the #30 JR III Racing Ligier-Nissan. Road to Indy driver Nolan Siegel will be Grist and Balogh's third driver this weekend.

The #74 Ligier leads the Endurance Cup on 34 points, three points ahead of the #33 Sean Creech Motorsport Ligier-Nissan of João Barbosa and Malthe Jakobsen. Grist is third on 27 points with Bennett, Braun and Kurtz on 26 points. 

All Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet have to do is start Petit Le Mans in the #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche to clinch the GT Daytona Pro championship. The Australian-French duo has won five times this season, and Felipe Nasr is back for the finale. Antonio García and Jordan Taylor has the #3 Corvette second in the champions on 2,908 points, 16 points ahead of Ben Barnicoat, who will be in the #14 Vasser Sullian Lexus with Jack Hawksworth and Kyle Kirkwood. Nicky Catsburg rounds out the #3 Corvette driver lineup.

García and Taylor lead the GTD Pro Endurance Cup standings on 27 points, two ahead of Davide Rigon and Daniel Serra, who are back in the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari and they will have James Calado in the car as well. Campbell and Jaminet are third in Endurance Cup, three points off the Corvette. Ross Gunn and Alex Riberas are four points off in the #23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin. BMW has slim hopes of the Endurance Cup with Connor De Phillippi and John Edwards six points back in the #25 BMW Team RLL entry. 

Six teams could win the GT Daytona championship this weekend. Roman De Angelis leads on 2,630 points, 45 points ahead of Stevan McAleer. De Angelis will drive the #23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin with Maxime Martin and Ian James while McAleer will be in the #32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG with Mike Skeen and Dirk Müller. Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen are 57 points back in the #16 Wright Motorsports Porsche with Zacharie Robichon rounding out their lineup for the weekend. 

After winning the last two races, Phillip Ellis and Russell Ward are now in the championship conversation and the #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG is 140 points behind De Angelis with Marvin Dienst in the #57 Mercedes-AMG this weekend. Turner Motorsport has a shot but a 162-point deficit to overcome for Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley in the #96 BMW along with Michale Dinan. Robert Megennis and Jeff Westphal are 171 points back and they will have Corey Lewis as their third driver in the #39 CarBahn with Peregrine Racing Lamborghini. 

The GTD Endurance Cup has the #70 inception Racing McLaren leading with Brendan Iribe and Jordan Pepper on 31 points, five points ahead of the #21 AF Corse Ferrari of Toni Vilander, Simon Mann and Luís Pérez Companc. De Angelis and James are on 24 points as well as Hardwick, Heylen and Robichon. 

The 25th Petit Le Mans is scheduled to begin at 12:10 p.m. ET on Saturday October 1. 

Other events of note in October
The World Drivers' Championship could be sealed up in Singapore, Japan, the United States or Mexico.
There will be the Bathurst 1000...
... and the Indianapolis 8 Hours.
By the end of the month, we will know the four drivers eligible for the NASCAR Cup championship in the finale. 
MotoGP rounds out its Asia-Pacific swing.
European Le Mans Series closes its season in Portimão.
Super Formula ends at Suzuka. 

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Meyer Shank Racing's 2022 Season

The fourth IndyCar Wrap-Up looks at the expanding Meyer Shank Racing organization. This was the first season for MSR as a full-time two-car program, and it saw a new driver added to the lineup, a past champion at that. After winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2021, MSR had high expectations for the following season. There were a few good days, but they were more infrequent than the team would have hoped for and the team saw a slight dip from past seasons.

Simon Pagenaud
After seven seasons with Team Penske, Pagenaud joined Meyer Shank Racing looking for his seventh consecutive top ten championship finish. The Frenchman went winless in 2021 and was looking to avoid a second consecutive winless season. Meyer Shank Racing had one victory to its name, but it was looking for its first road/street course triumph after a few close calls in the last few seasons. Pagenaud had good days with MSR, but the second half saw a downturn in form as the team struggled for speed and reliability in the final races.

What objectively was his best race?
One of probably only two cars not to have any contact or off-track excursions during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Pagenaud wound up second to Colton Herta. Pagenaud kept Herta honest, but the Frenchman was not going to repeat his 2019 Grand Prix of Indianapolis performance in the wet when he chased and overtook Scott Dixon for the lead with two laps to go. Second was always going to be Pagenaud's prize for that Saturday afternoon. 

What subjectively was his best race?
The Grand Prix of Indianapolis is likely number one on this list, but in the Indianapolis 500, Pagenaud spent much of the race in the top ten and ended up finishing eighth. He never looked like a threat for victory, but he was one of the most consistent drivers throughout the entire Indianapolis 500 festivities as he was around tenth in almost every practice session as well. 

What objectively was his worst race?
While arguably his best two races came at Indianapolis, so did one of his worst races of the season. He looked set for a top ten finish in the July IMS road course race, but Pagenaud run out of fuel during the second stint of his race and ended up 25th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is hard to beat the Brickyard weekend, but Pagenaud was 23rd in both Iowa races and both Meyer Shank Racing cars were dreadful during the doubleheader. He also had two wasted runs late in the season. He was moving forward at Portland before gearbox issues halted his progressive and had him finish ten laps down. At Laguna Seca, he qualified tenth, but wound up a lap down in 17th at the checkered flag. 

Simon Pagenaud's 2022 Statistics
Championship Position: 15th (314 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 13.647
Average Finish: 14.176

Hélio Castroneves
Returning to full-time IndyCar competition for the first time since 2017, Castroneves looked to use his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory the year before as a springboard for his 2022 season. The Brazilian had finished in the top five in the championship in nine of his final ten full IndyCar seasons, but five years removed from his last full championship push, it was expected he would not be at that same level. For some, Castroneves was further off than anticipated.  

What objectively was his best race?
It was at the race that made Castroneves famous, the Indianapolis 500, but it wasn't a victory, rather a seventh-place finish from 27th on the grid. Castroneves spent the entire race climbing up the running order and in the final run he got ahead of his teammate Pagenaud. Not a race victory, but a victory in terms of bragging rights. 

What subjectively was his best race?
It is really Indianapolis. Not much else comes close. A ninth at Long Beach and an eighth at Mid-Ohio don't quite cut it.

What objectively was his worst race?
Electrical issues took Castroneves out of Belle Isle after 21 laps, placing him in 25th after he qualified fourth. To add insult to injury, it was one of only two retirements for Castorneves this season. 

What subjectively was his worst race?
Belle Isle is particularly bad, but the worst part of Castroneves' season was how often he was anonymous. He had four finishes outside the top twenty alone and another four finishes worse than 15th. His qualifying pace didn't do him any favors with only two top ten starts but 12 starting positions outside the top fifteen. It is hard to have good days when you are starting the day at the back especially that often. 

It should also be noted in his only other top ten start, Castroneves was collected in the Devlin DeFrancesco-Graham Rahal incident. Castroneves had already lost ground from sixth on the grid, but he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time in that accident. 

Hélio Castroneves' 2022 Statistics
Championship Position: 18th (263 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 1
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 18.412
Average Finish: 16.471

An Early Look Ahead
The 2023 season will have a lame-duck feel to it. 

This will likely be Castroneves' final full season in IndyCar unless he pulls off a remarkable turnaround. His 2022 season was always going to be difficult being so far removed from full-time IndyCar competition, and to give him credit, Castroneves finished on the lead lap or only one lap down in 14 of 15 races he finished but keeping up to finish on the lead lap feels like his ceiling. He can hold on to 15th but not push for much higher. He is 47 years old and will turn 48 in the middle of next May. Castroneves has had a full career. It is time to move on. He could still be an Indianapolis one-off for the next few years. I would love to see him race into his 50s, but the full-time gig is done. 

MSR is likely disappointed its best driver was 15th in the championship and it probably thinks it should be contending for at least the top ten in the championship. That is a realistic expectation. The middle is quite tight in IndyCar. There is not much separating MSR from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and even Andretti Autosport is falling to that middle tier. Top ten is within reach for this group. 

MSR has shown the competitiveness of a top ten team, but since it became a full-time operation there is always one element the team cannot quite get a handle on. There have been strategic decisions and mechanical problems that have set this team back. The biggest problem for this team is it just can't seem to get out of its own way. 

The team was lost at Iowa and running Pagenaud out of fuel at the second IMS road course race likely cost the team a top ten, possibly a top five result. Then the team had another unexplained mechanical issue at Portland on Pagenaud and when it looked like the team would end on a high note at Laguna Seca with both cars making the second round of qualifying, both cars dropped like rocks in the race. 

The flashes of speed are there, but the team doesn't really maximize them. 

I don't think Pagenaud has lost it as a driver and frankly he was his same old consistent self in 2022, but with Pagenaud and Castroneves being the second wave of drivers for MSR after Jack Harvey these results expose the problems at the team level. There is no more wondering what is on the driver and what is on the team. These results should point where improvements need to be made in the 2023 season, and I think MSR can make those adjustments and become a more competitive team, but there is the lame-duck element in this group. 

The loyalty to Castroneves is understood, but MSR is a team with big ambitions. It tested Formula E champion and potential 2023 Formula One driver Nyck de Vries last offseason. I think the 2022 season looks pretty different if de Vries was in that car, and it would also show what the team's five-year plan is. Even when Castroneves was first announced as a returning to full-time competition that was at most going to be three years. Pairing a young driver such as de Vries with Pagenaud sets the direction for the next five years if not the next ten for MSR. Those plans are on hold until Castroneves is no longer the full-time driver in the #06 Honda.

I hope MSR didn't miss its shot but the more exciting season for this team will be 2024 than 2023. I really want to see what MSR can do with a dedicated driver it can build around for the long-term while the team also works on its strategic and technical shortcomings. 

This is a race-winning team and with the right pieces together it can contend for an IndyCar championship, but we are just a little off from that being a reality. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Dale Coyne Racing's 2022 Season

The third IndyCar Wrap-Up will look at our first Honda team. Dale Coyne Racing underwent a full driver change for the 2022 season. After housing Romain Grosjean, who was the darling of the 2021 season, and bringing back Ed Jones, Coyne swap one Formula One veteran for another and dropped a rookie into its other seat. Despite the changes, the team had high hopes for this season as it looked to score its first victory since 2018.

David Malukas
After finishing runner-up in the 2021 Indy Lights championship, Malukas moved up to IndyCar as his family's team partnered with the Dale Coyne Racing operation. The Illinois teams united and carried some excitement into this year with expectations of competing for Rookie of the Year. The best didn't happen all at once, but this group grew into the success, and Malukas ended 2022 with higher stock than when he started the season. 

What objectively was his best race?
How about a runner-up finish at Gateway? The Dale Coyne Racing team was running an alternate strategy anticipating rain and when the rain came Malukas and teammate Takuma Sato were in top ten positions. After a lengthy delay, Malukas came alive after the restart. drove onto the podium and pressured Josef Newgarden in the closing laps.

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Gateway. Malukas looked good all weekend, but the team's call in the race allowed the Illinois-native to be aggressive in his home race and set him up for that late run to the podium. 

It should also be noted Malukas looked good on all the ovals, 11th at Texas, 16th at Indianapolis, the top rookie finisher on the road, and he was 14th and eighth at the Iowa races. He was also 11th at Belle Isle with fastest lap. 

What objectively was his worst race?
The first race of the season, and in turn the first race of Malukas' IndyCar career. He got into the marbles in turn four and hit the barrier, knocking him out of his first race after 23 laps and classifying him in 26th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
A possible top five finish was in the cards at Nashville before Malukas and Kyle Kirkwood got together in turn nine. It was an ambitious attempt from Kirkwood, and he did graze the inside barrier, but Malukas was pinching Kirkwood tight into that corner and the officials put Malukas behind Kirkwood as they saw the incident as avoidable contact from Malukas.

Long Beach wasn't good either. Malukas started 18th, had an improper pit exit penalty while already running at the back and was then caught in Jimmie Johnson's accident late in the race in turn eight. 

David Malukas' 2022 Statistics
Championship Position: 16th (305 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 8
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 6
Average Start: 12.647
Average Finish: 14

Takuma Sato
After four seasons and an Indianapolis 500 victory with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Sato moved to Coyne, the fifth team in his IndyCar career. Sato gave many reasons for confidence. He was filling a car that had been on the podium multiple times the previous season, and Sato had finished 12th or better in the championship in the previous five years. There was hope of big finishes for the #51 Honda entry, but these were humbler results.

What objectively was his best race?
It was the same race as Sato's teammate, Gateway. Sato qualified eighth and was in the top ten for most of it. He looked like the only driver capable with mixing it with the top seven championship contenders in the first half of the race until Malukas came alive. It was one of the few races Sato spent the entire race in the top ten and he finished fifth.

What subjectively was his best race?
Gateway, but the second Iowa race deserves a mention because he fought for a top ten result in that one. Non-descriptive results defined Sato's season. The second Iowa race was one of the few times we really saw him run competitively for top positions.

What objectively was his worst race?
Sato was 25th in the Indianapolis 500 after deciding to make a stop 43 laps from the finish in a Hail Mary attempt for victory. He fell many laps short of making it on fuel and his final stop came just before the Jimmie Johnson accident in turn two, which meant Sato was trapped a lap down. It didn't help that Sato started tenth and faded over the course of the race. 

He was also 25th at Toronto after catching the barrier on the outside of turn two on the opening lap.

What subjectively was his worst race?
When your race is over in two corners, it is difficult to say anything else was worse. Toronto has a good case. 

Takuma Sato's 2022 Statistics
Championship Position: 19th (258 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 33
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 14.706
Average Finish: 16

An Early Look Ahead
Malukas will be back. We are unsure of Sato's status. The team would like to expand to three cars with the likely driver being the 2022 Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist, who drove for Henry Malukas' HMD Motorsports, but Honda isn't committing to more than 15 full-time engine programs and that could keep Coyne at two cars for next season. It also doesn't help that Lundqvist received only $500,000 for his Indy Lights championship, down from the $1.2 million prize past Indy Lights champions received, as Penske Entertainment Group took over promotion of the series after Andersen Promotion worked in partnership with IndyCar over the previous few seasons.

Coyne didn't win a race, but there was a lot to be positive about. Malukas grew with each race. There were very few moments he looked like a rookie. He did the smart thing of completing as many laps as he could and scored some impressive results while other rookies weren't as consistent finishing races. He fell short of Rookie of the Year but consider that nine of the 14 Rookies of the Year since reunification were not full-time in IndyCar in 2022 and that award loses some of its luster. Josef Newgarden wasn't Rookie of the Year and neither was Álex Palou. How are those careers going? 

The one concern for Malukas is he does feel like another one of these Road to Indy drivers that had good days early in his time in IndyCar but didn't have a great day. Gabby Chaves had good days in IndyCar. Chaves nearly won Pocono as a rookie and he rarely had a retirement in his time in IndyCar, but Chaves is no longer in the series. Carlos Muñoz was stunning on big ovals and regularly had good results, but Muñoz is no longer in the series. Spencer Pigot had good days when he was the road/street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing, but Pigot is no longer in the series. Everyone was sure Ed Jones was the real deal during his rookie year with Coyne in 2017. Jones wasn't on the grid in 2020 and he wasn't on the grid again in 2022. 

There was a lot of hype behind Malukas to move to Chip Ganassi Racing if the #10 Honda entry was open as the Álex Palou-to-McLaren drama played out, but recent history suggests we should pump the brakes on such thoughts and see how the sophomore season goes before crowning Malukas as the next great thing in IndyCar. 

Malukas has a wonderful, open personality that the series should promote. I think he can attract a healthy following, but the biggest thing that will determine his exposure is on-track success. Josef Newgarden paid his dues driving for the single-car Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. He had pulled out encouraging results with little behind him before SFHR and Ed Carpenter Racing merged, which led to race victories, which then became a move to Team Penske. 

Newgarden was rumored for a Penske move after the 2012 season, but that move came five years later and instantly resulted in a championship. 

Patience is a good thing. I don't think anyone realizes Malukas turns 21 years old today! He spent the entire 2022 season as a 20-year-old. There is a long career ahead of him. He doesn't need to be thrust into a more difficult situation. Malukas is in the right place for his sophomore season, and it will likely be the right place for year three and year four as well. It is good for him, and it is good for Coyne to stay committed to one another for the next few years. That will help both parties out into the future. 

Sato is the question mark. The 2022 season wasn't great, but we didn't see Sato revert to the driver of his first six IndyCar season that showed flashes of speed and tore up a lot of carbon fiber. IndyCar is that competitive that a clean but quick Sato is 19th in the championship. It is also a case that the 45-year-old Sato is regressing. His qualifying form has been down notable the last two years. The race results are also taking a dip. He turns 46 years old this January. We are approaching the final IndyCar starts for Takuma Sato. How many are left? I think they are countable at this point. 

It could be over. Sato could decide he has had enough and get out before going through one more difficult season where it is a challenge to crack the top fifteen. Or he gives it one more swing on the full schedule and tries to make a little more magic. 

A different driver alongside Malukas could be the best choice for the team and take it to a higher level. Other than Lundqvist, there isn't another driver floating out as a possible Coyne entrant in 2023. Sato can positively contribute to this team, but the general expectation is if the changes don't come in 2023 than 2024 will see a tweak with the goal being Dale Coyne Racing matching some of its best seasons ever in IndyCar.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Musings From the Weekend: IndyCar's Playbook for Scheduling Success

Nobody likes Texas Motor Speedway, and Texas Motor Speedway might become even worse.  Tyler Reddick won what might be one of the worst races in NASCAR history. NASCAR officiating is toothless and worthless. Scott Miller makes Michael Masi looks confident. Francesco Bagnaia coughed up points. Moto2 tightened up with a hometown winner. Colton Herta officially will not be getting a Super License. Daniel Ricciardo might take a year off. It was damp at Spa-Francorchamps, but it dried out. It rained in Salzburg. World Superbike is clearing up its championship picture. Some 2023 calendars have come out and some have not. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking. 

IndyCar's Playbook for Scheduling Success
There have been two weekends since the IndyCar season concluded, Will Power hoisted the Astor Cup for the second time and we have even cleared up the Álex Palou contractual saga, but the 2023 schedule remains a mystery. 

It is nothing new that IndyCar has gone into an offseason not knowing the dates for the following season. It is about a 50/50 proposition the schedule is released before the final checkered flag has waved, but we prefer to end a season knowing where we are going and when we will be there next year. 

We do know where and when we will be going for many races, as tracks have released dates and other series that have historically been support series to IndyCar events have announced races on weekends that have historically been IndyCar race weekends. Unfortunately, as we see the pieces falling to place, we also see IndyCar about to repeat some of its same mistakes. 

We know St. Petersburg will be March 5, 2023, likely being the season opener, but the next races known chronologically are Texas on April 2 and Long Beach on April 16, the two races sandwiching Easter weekend. In all likelihood we are looking three weeks off between the first two rounds of the season, a common occurrence in IndyCar over the last few seasons. 

We also know there will be a test on September 7 at Laguna Seca, a Thursday, meaning the 2023 season finale will likely take place on September 10 from the famed Northern California circuit, a week after Labor Day weekend, when the Grand Prix of Portland will take place.

IndyCar has been repeating many of the same steps over the last ten years, some of which have been good for the series. But other steps do not make much common sense, and these are the little things that should be adjusted for the better of the series. 

When Mark Miles first took over as CEO of Hulman & Co., Miles stated he hoped to end the IndyCar season on Labor Day weekend and make IndyCar's championship synonymous with Labor Day holiday. Since that time, IndyCar has ended on Labor Day weekend one time, 2014 at Fontana. In 2015, the championship was decided the weekend BEFORE Labor Day weekend and since 2016 the championship has been decided deeper into September. 

This season ended on the first NFL Sunday of the 2022 season, and attention was certainly splintered as the five-way championship finale drew only 507,000 viewers on NBC, a 472,000 viewer decrease from NBC's broadcast of the Portland race the weekend before, which set the picture for the championship decider. 

All indication of building to a climax did not lead to a larger audience because the audience had other viewing plans that weekend. People didn't tune away because the racing was going to be poor or they didn't like the players in the championship or because the result was never in doubt. IndyCar's finale couldn't get draw eyes because people wanted to watch football for the first time since the middle of February. It didn't matter how good the IndyCar finale was going to be. It was going to take a dive in viewership.

It also didn't help that the IndyCar started at 3:30 p.m. Eastern, about 15 minutes after the NASCAR Cup race at Kansas started, further dividing attention and causing people to pick one motorsports event over another. 

IndyCar has been trying to be smart over the last decade, particularly the last four or five years, especially since NBC became the sole television partner in the United States. IndyCar knows what it can do to maximize its audience. It now has to do it. 

There is no point ending on the first NFL Sunday. Just slide the races up, congest the schedule a little more, but end a week earlier to maximize viewership. It also knows running simultaneously against NASCAR isn't helping and the NASCAR Cup schedule frankly is lobbing IndyCar a meatball to belt out of the park, especially during the final weekends of the IndyCar season. 

Consider that NASCAR's final regular season race is a Saturday night at Daytona and the first playoff race the week later is a Sunday night race at Darlington. It is plain and simple that IndyCar must run that Sunday afternoon after Daytona and run Sunday leading into the Darlington race. The window is there for the taking. IndyCar already runs prior to Darlington, but it is ignoring a prime slot to structure the championship to receive more attention. 

Portland should the day after Daytona on that Sunday afternoon. Daytona was rained out this year, but IndyCar at least has to take the window because more times than not that Daytona race is over well before 3:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. IndyCar can have an uncontested moment on the stage but choosing not to take it is absurd. 

The following weekend IndyCar can end its season, crown its champion before NASCAR begins its playoffs at Darlington. One championship is concluded while the run to another is about to begin. It practically markets itself. IndyCar, NASCAR and all the other parties involved are dropping the ball if they do not realize it. 

It would mean a tighter turnaround for the teams, but it would be necessary for the better of the series. IndyCar might know it can get a million people to tune in for one of its races, but it must also realize that audience is easily fractured when presented with other options. It is on IndyCar to position itself to get its best possible rating. 

The same way IndyCar knows what it must do at the end of the season, it must do something to plug the hole that has existed at the start of the season for the better part of the last decade. It is inexcusable for IndyCar to have nearly a month off between the first and second races of the season. No momentum can be built on the current structure. People tune in just to tune out and IndyCar loses in that scenario. IndyCar cannot be that absent while NASCAR is getting the ball rolling and Formula One is running at a consistent pace. Out of sight, out of mind and IndyCar doesn't seem to realize the harm of not racing when everyone else is, especially after a lengthy offseason and when there is a vacuum between the end of football season and the start of baseball season.

IndyCar has allowed that hole to exist for too long and for no damn reason. The series makes fiscally responsible choices not to overbear the teams with more races than they can afford, but it is losing out when multiple-week gaps exist between races, especially the first two races.

Everyone has been joking that we pretty much know what the 2023 IndyCar schedule will be because it will be nearly identical to this season except for a few weekends shifting, but when looking around the motorsports world, it is hard to ignore the lack of excitement in IndyCar scheduling compared to everyone else. Many series have something to look forward to. IndyCar features the same as usual.  

NASCAR is adding a street race in Chicago and North Wilkesboro is returning after a quarter-decade of dormancy to host the All-Star Race. Formula One added Miami this year and it is adding Las Vegas next year. IMSA is returning to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on top of introducing the LMDh-spec prototypes. 

IndyCar... may have Milwaukee, a track with history but also a history of substandard attendance and located a little over an hour south of a place that already hosts an IndyCar race, but not until the 2024 season... so it has that going for itself... but who knows... we have to wait and see... it might not happen... but NASCAR found a way to return to Milwaukee in 2023 with the Truck series... so it already beat IndyCar to the punch when nobody expected it... yeah... that rising tide is lifting all the boats.

It is one thing to be smart, but IndyCar has to take a chance at some point. It also has to have some fun. 

Fontana is about to turned into a short track, shuttering the fastest circuit an IndyCar ever competed on. What does IndyCar have to lose having one final race at Fontana to fill that late-March gap? "A Farewell to Fontana" if you will. It is one race to fill one gap. The goal is just to put on a race and get one final chance to see cars buzz around the two-mile oval at 220 mph. Nostalgia will bring out a crowd even if it is a month after the NASCAR Cup race. The track is already ripping out seats. There will be less to fill! But that one-off could be used for more. 

Fontana will still exist; it will just be a shorter oval. IndyCar has said it wants more oval races. This could be a jumping off point for a longer relationship with IndyCar running on the Fontana short track whatever that may look like. The track alteration is as much of an opportunity for IndyCar as it is for NASCAR as long as IndyCar acts on it. 

Success is in IndyCar's own hand. It knows the recipe, now it has to put the ingredients together and not be afraid to do something to get people to notice.

Champions From the Weekend
Andrea Caldarelli clinched his second consecutive GT World Challenge America championship as the #1 K-PAX Racing Lamborghini swept the weekend at Sebring with co-driver Michele Beretta. 

George Kurtz clinched the GT America championship as he swept the races from Sebring. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Tyler Reddick and some SRO America action from Sebring, but did you know...

Jack Miller won MotoGP's Japanese Grand Prix. Ai Ogura won the Moto2 race, his third victory of the season. Ivan Guevara won the Moto3 race, his second consecutive victory and his fifth of the season.

Noah Gragson won the Grand National Series race, his fourth consecutive victory, the first driver to win four consecutive races since Sam Ard in 1983, and it was Gragson's seventh victory of the season. 

The #22 United Autosports Oreca-Gibson of Tom Gamble, Phil Hanson and Duncan Tappy won the 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. The #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier-Nissan of Charles Crews, Guilherme Oliviera and Nico Pino won in LMP3, its third consecutive victory. The #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Mikkel Jensen, Frederik Schandorff and Conrad Grunewald won in GTE.

Nick Cassidy and Thomas Preining split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from the Red Bull Ring.

The #34 Conquest Racing Mercedes-AMG of Michai Stephens and Gavin Sanders and the #18 RS1 Porsche of Stevan McAleer and Eric Filgueiras split the GT4 America races from Sebring.

Álvaro Bautista swept the World Superbike races at Barcelona. Dominique Aegerter swept the World Supersport races.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 25th Petit Le Mans.
Max Verstappen has a chance to clinch the World Drivers' Championship in Singapore. 
Meanwhile, MotoGP will be relatively close to Formula One, as the two-wheel championship is in Thailand.
NASCAR tackles Talladega.
Barcelona remains busy with the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup concluding in Catalunya. 
Super GT hosts its penultimate round at Autopolis.
Rally New Zealand returns to the World Rally Championship schedule for the first time since 2018.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Juncos Hollinger Racing's 2022 Season

The second 2022 IndyCar Wrap-Up takes us to the only full-time single-car team that participated this season. Juncos Hollinger Racing ran the final three races of the 2021 season with frankly no success beyond getting a car on the grid, as it used that time as a glorified test program. Some of the growing pains showed early this season, but JHR found impressive speed over the course of the 17 races, though the results didn't always reflect that.

Callum Ilott
Ilott was on the grid for the final three races of 2021 as the Brit got a feel for an IndyCar. The Ferrari Driver Academy member ran the full IndyCar season, making his debut on ovals as well as a number of other circuits. There were plenty of pains, both physical and mental, but Ilott showed great promise and exited the 2022 season as one of the leading prospects. 

What objectively was his best race?
Ilott was eighth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis after qualifying seventh and spending much of the race in the top ten despite the changing conditions. It was a big breakout for the Brit.

What subjectively was his best race?
There were many impressive results this season. I think Iowa was Ilott's best weekend period. He started both races in 22nd but ended up 12th in Saturday race and on the lead lap in 11th in the Sunday race. Considering Ilott had no oval experience entering this season, the fact he was competing for the top ten in both Iowa races is quite remarkable. 

What objectively was his worst race?
It would be 32nd in the Indianapolis 500, which left him with a broken wrist and kept him out of the car for Belle Isle.

What subjectively was his worst race?
There weren't many bad days for Ilott. The season ended on a sour note when an engine failure took him out of Laguna Seca after starting second and possibly being in line for another top ten finish. He had some tough runs early in the year as the team struggled for speed, but the team had it at most races. I think Toronto was disappointing because he started seventh and front wing damage sent him into the turn three runoff, but he was able to recover to finish 14th. 

He also had second round qualifying appearances at Barber and Mid-Ohio. At Barber, he spun in turn seven and beached the car. He was losing position on worn tires but he was better than 25th. At Mid-Ohio, he lost an engine 57 laps into the race while in contention for a top ten result. Not his fault, but still a bummer nonetheless. 

Callum Ilott's 2022 Statistics
Championship Position: 20th (219 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 2
Laps Led: 7
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 6
Average Start: 15.375
Average Finish: 17.5

An Early Look Ahead
Juncos Hollinger Racing has announced it is retaining Ilott and will expand to two cars for the 2023 season. Things are moving in the right direction for this operation. 

Ilott may have had an average finish of 17.5, 21st among IndyCar regulars, but he was much better than that, and we saw it in qualifying. Ilott made the second round of qualifying in six races and ended the season starting on the front row at Laguna Seca. The race pace didn't always transfer over, but he had good performances considering how new everything was to him this year.

JHR showed its limitations. There were plenty of races where Ilott made the second round and then went backward. Those weren't terrible drop offs and he remained in the middle of the field, but it is an area this team will need to improve on next year. 

Ilott showed he is a driver for the future. He looked good at many places, including ovals. At Texas, he got in as many laps as he could, and he didn't have the greatest pace there. He was notably slow late in that race, basically surviving to get to the finish. At Iowa, Ilott was a threat for a top ten finish. That is encouraging for a rookie with no oval experience prior to this season, especially when you consider Ilott broke his wrist at the Indianapolis 500. We have seen many drivers get hurt and be spooked. For Ilott, we didn't see him slow down after that. 

We must acknowledge that Ilott's long-term outlook in IndyCar isn't with Juncos Hollinger Racing. Many teams were sniffing around this kid during the season. If he makes even a marginal improvement in 2023, it will be unlikely he will return to JHR for 2024. A bigger team will sign him. He is primed to be a race winner and champion. JHR knows that. Its building with Ilott and hoping to be better situated when the post-Ilott era begins. 

This group will expand to two cars, which is good in theory. JHR was the lone single-car team in IndyCar. Single-car teams are always fighting uphill. A second car should do wonders. However, this is still a small organization. It is going to need to hire more people while also managing the shortcomings we saw in 2021. While doubling the number of entrants, it could increase the chances at success, it could also increase the number of failures. 

It remains unclear the direction JHR will go with the second car. It could repeat what it did with Ilott and hire a European developed driver. There is plenty talent out there that could lift this program and catch out the rest of IndyCar, but there is a chance a new driver comes in with a new car, new tires, new circuits and cannot get a grip on IndyCar in year one. If it is someone with no oval experience, that could be a further setback and a mental roadblock. 

There are veterans out there that could lift the team, but it is a risk joining a new team that is adding a second entry, which hasn't shown consistent success yet. Not to mention this team isn't loaded with funding. In terms of just attracting a driver, I am not sure which veteran JHR would appeal to. It doesn't feel like a top tier driver, but someone who has been an average IndyCar driver. The foundation has been laid that JHR could challenge for the top fifteen in the championship with Ilott. Whomever they hire for the second car should at least match Ilott's potential. 

We will get plenty of answers in time. For now, JHR is heading in the right direction and will be looking for greater success in 2023.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

IndyCar Wrap-Up: A.J. Foyt Racing's 2022 Season

Another IndyCar season has concluded, and we have some distance from the Laguna Seca season finale. It is time to go over the IndyCar grid and look at how each team and driver performed this year. We start in a familiar place, A.J. Foyt Racing. A champion left the team with another young driver coming in. The team also expanded to three cars with a rookie and a veteran splitting the seat based on circuit discipline. For all the positivity entering the season, it quickly disappeared once the cars hit the circuit. 

Kyle Kirkwood
Fresh off an Indy Lights championship, Kirkwood moved up to IndyCar with Foyt, effectively on the loan from the Andretti Autosport organization. In a rookie class split between Road to Indy participants and those with a European background, Kirkwood was seen as a favorite for Rookie of the Year honors based on his ladder series success. Sunny days were few for the Floridian. 

What objectively was his best race?
At Long Beach, Kirkwood started 12th and spent basically the entire race between tenth and 13th. He ended up finishing at the front end of that range in tenth position, the first top ten finish of his IndyCar career.

What subjectively was his best race?
Though the final result says otherwise, it would be Belle Isle, and that might be his best weekend period. He started the weekend topping IndyCar Friday practice, and he won the pole position in the GT Daytona class for the IMSA race, where Kirkwood substituted for an injured Jack Hawksworth in a VasserSullivan Lexus. 

Then Kirkwood broke his wrist on Saturday morning in IndyCar practice. With his hand constantly wrapped in ice, he qualified fifteenth for the IndyCar race, but he won in GTD with Ben Barnicoat in the IMSA race. 

In the IndyCar race, Kirkwood was making up ground on the two-stop strategy and then hit the barrier on an out-lap and it ended what looked to be developing into another top ten result. 

What objectively was his worst race?
Kirkwood was 26th in two races, first the Grand Prix of Indianapolis after contact from Graham Rahal broke Kirkwood's gearbox and ended what was likely going to be no better than a 15th-place finish, and the second was at Mid-Ohio, where Kirkwood started ninth and it looked like he was bound for a turnaround result only to go off course in turn eight and into the barriers not long after making a pit stop.

What subjectively was his worst race?
It is Mid-Ohio because that felt like it was going to be a race where Kirkwood could hit his marks and score a respectable result. Instead, it was a mistake from overdriving the car early in the race and it led to another retirement, one of too many this season for the rookie. 

Not every retirement was his fault, and he was 25th at Texas after Devlin DeFrancesco got loose underneath Kirkwood in turns three and four and spun the American. Kirkwood was impressive before that and could have pushed for a top ten in that race as well. 

Kyle Kirkwood's 2022 Statistics
Championship Position: 24th (183 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led: 5
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 19.412
Average Finish: 20.176

Dalton Kellett
For the third consecutive season, Kellett was back in the Foyt fleet. This was his second full season, and he was looking to improve from 23rd in the championship with a best finish of 12th in the 2021 season. An extra race on the 2022 schedule did not work to the Canadian's favor. 

What objectively was his best race?
Kellett picked up a 17th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway. He has started 22nd. 

What subjectively was his best race?
Oof... this is a tough one. Road America was his only lead lap finish and that was a 23rd-place result. Not great. He was 18th at Gateway. It is likely Texas or Gateway. He was also 20th at Belle Isle.

What objectively was his worst race?
Twice was Kellett 27th, both at Indianapolis and both in the month of May. In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he spun into the barrier in the turn five and six section. In the Indianapolis 500, he was slow, qualified 28th and finished two laps down in 27th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Kellett was quite poor at Nashville. After catching a break and being elevated into the second round of qualifying when Colton Herta got into the barrier in that round one qualifying group Kellett was a roadblock until he was caught in the lap 25 logjam in turn seven. 

Dalton Kellett's 2022 Statistics
Championship Position: 25th (133 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1 
Average Start: 23.176
Average Finish: 22.764

Tatiana Calderón
After splitting the last few years between Super Formula and sports car racing, Calderón moved into IndyCar for the 2022 season. She tested the year before with A.J. Foyt Racing at Mid-Ohio. The plan was for Calderón to split the #11 ROKiT Chevrolet with Calderón taking the road courses and J.R. Hildebrand running the ovals. Money became an issue for this entry midseason. 

What objectively was her best race?
It was the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where Calderón was 15th in the wet and led a lap through pit cycle. She benefitted from other cars having problems and falling out of the race, but Calderón kept it on the circuit and in changing conditions that is most important.

What subjectively was her best race?
It is probably the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but Long Beach deserves a mention because she was 16th and only a lap down in that one. Again, benefitted from others falling out, but she kept her nose clean. 

What objectively was her worst race?
Her worst finish was 26th at Barber Motorsports Park, finishing two laps down. 

What subjectively was her worst race?
How about the races she didn't get to do because the ROKiT funding dried up after Mid-Ohio causing her to miss five races? Calderón struggled in IndyCar. We cannot ignore that. St. Petersburg was tough with her finishing three laps down. She was wrestling the car at Belle Isle. But she wasn't dragging the rear of the field. She had a reasonable speed. Those extra few races would have benefitted her development.

Tatiana Calderón's 2022 Statistics
Championship Position: 29th (58 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 1
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0 
Average Start: 25.143
Average Finish: 22

J.R. Hildebrand
Splitting the #11 Chevrolet, Hildebrand was set to return for his 13th IndyCar season, but his first year competing in multiple races since the 2017 season when he was full-time driving for Ed Carpenter Racing. Hildebrand drove for A.J. Foyt Racing the year before at the Indianapolis 500, where he was the top qualifier and top finisher for the team in his only start in 2021. 

What objectively was his best race?
Hildebrand was 12th at the Indianapolis 500, the top A.J. Foyt Racing finisher for a second consecutive year. 

What subjectively was his best race?
It is Indianapolis, but what makes that result even more impressive is Hildebrand made an early first pit stop, however the way the cautions fell early in the race trapped Hildebrand a lap down. He was waved back onto the lead lap and then drove into the top 12.

What objectively was his worst race?
A 14th at Texas, but Hildebrand did well in that race trying a few different things to move up from 25th starting position. 

What subjectively was his worst race?
Like Calderón, the races Hildebrand didn't get to do. The Iowa races and Gateway. Hildebrand did two races and was the best Foyt driver of the season. Kirkwood was ok at Iowa, good enough to finish 15th in the first Iowa race. I think Hildebrand could have beat that and possibly contended for a top ten result. 

J.R. Hildebrand's 2022 Statistics
Championship Position: 30th (53 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 1
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 21
Average Finish: 13

An Early Look Ahead
Uncertain is one way to describe Foyt's future. Foyt is a team with no sponsors, no money, no agreement with any drivers and no exceptional engineering ability to carry the team up the grid. 

It is hard to see how Foyt improves from this situation in 2023. Juncos Hollinger Racing entered IndyCar last year after throwing together a program for the final three races of 2021 and ran significantly better than Foyt. JHR was competitive, even making the Fast Six at the Laguna Seca season finale. Foyt rarely showed competitiveness for the top fifteen.

There are so many things wrong with this team that my biggest wish is somebody with millions of dollars to burn who wants to own an IndyCar team decides to buy it and take the Foyt name off the grid. That is what the Foyt team is best served to be entering the 2023 season, a starting point for someone else. 

Who is going to drive there that is much better than Dalton Kellett? With no sponsors, it is dependent on drivers with funding, nothing wrong with that, but with how poor the results have been, why would any respectable driver step down to drive at Foyt when JHR is expanding to two cars? The team's average finishing position in 2022 was 21.162. I know the IndyCar grid grew a little bit in 2022, but the team couldn't average cracking the top twenty in a 26-car field with three cars in half the races! What competent driver would join such an organization?

Even worse is the team isn't sure it will take Kellett back. Being down to nobody, what is Foyt hoping to accomplish next year? 

Indy Lights driver Benjamin Pedersen has been linked to Foyt since June, but I don't see Pedersen as the knight in shining armor that will save the team. Pedersen has been good in Indy Lights, but he hasn't shown any outstanding skill to suggest he will be someone who can lift the worst IndyCar team out of the cellar. Even if it signed Pedersen, the team would still need a second driver. 

I doubt Santino Ferrucci would step down to Foyt to run a full-time program and Ferrucci has been part-time the last two years. There will be available Formula Two drivers, but Foyt would be a bad choice to enter IndyCar with. It is baffling American Logan Sargeant was in talks with Foyt for a move for the 2022 season before Sargeant returned to Formula Two, won multiple races and currently sits third in the championship with two races remaining and has a chance to clinch 40 Super License points as the American has been linked to a Williams F1 seat for 2023.

I am at the point where I would rather see Foyt close down and those two Chevrolet engine leases go to Ed Carpenter Racing and Paretta Autosport. We would at least have two more competitive cars on the grid at that point. Hell, Dale Coyne Racing wants to expand but Honda doesn't have any more engines to give. I would rather Foyt close, Coyne switch to Chevrolet and Coyne easily expand to three cars. 

The best thing for this team and for IndyCar would be someone else stepping in and taking over with a fresh set of ideas. One team always has to be at the bottom, but it has been Foyt for too long in IndyCar. Foyt has only twice had a driver finish in the top fifteen in the championship since the 2012 season. It hasn't had a top ten championship finisher since 2002. 

With the DW12 chassis we have seen a number of teams pull out respectable results. Dale Coyne Racing has been a semi-regular race winner. Meyer Shank Racing has come in and been competitive. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing have had drivers compete for championships. Foyt has been none of that. Worse of all, for most the last decade it was one of the better funded teams on the grid.

Next season will be ten years since Foyt won at Long Beach with Takuma Sato and Sato ended up leading the championship into the Indianapolis 500. It was a victory that many said showed how the DW12 leveled the playing field and had many considering Foyt as a sleeping giant. The team hasn't been asleep. It has been in a coma, and it doesn't show signs of waking up anytime soon.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Musings From the Weekend: 2022 IndyCar Predictions: Revisited

Enea Bastianini snapped Francesco Bagnaia's MotoGP winning streak at four races with a last lap pass at Aragón. Fabio Quartararo went out on lap one. Ducati clinched the World Manufactures' Championship. Marc Márquez made his MotoGP return. Colton Herta will not be getting a Super License and Red Bull is no longer interested. The saga that was 2022 IndyCar silly season is over. Álex Palou will remain at Ganassi. Felix Rosenqvist will remain at Arrow McLaren SP. All that noise for no movement. Palou did get to test a McLaren Formula One car at Barcelona, as did Patricio O'Ward. People got upset they couldn't see a party they weren't invited to. NASCAR and Goodyear should have probably done more testing. Jimmie Johnson raced Mr. Bean... and Mr. Bean won. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

2022 IndyCar Predictions: Revisited
Normally, the Monday after the IndyCar season is when we revisit the preseason predictions made on New Year's Eve the year before, but with the Super License situation around Colton Herta and the brainstorming I had done about how the system could be better and recognize more drivers, that iron was hot and I had to strike and get that out first. Revisiting predictions is mostly regurgitation with a minimal amount of research. It isn't the most mentally taxing exercise. 

1. Scott Dixon will be the top Ganassi finisher in at least seven races

Dixon was the top Ganassi finisher in seven races, but at the start of this season this prediction looked to be in serious jeopardy. 

Dixon was not the top Ganassi finisher in any of the first six races, meaning he would need to go at least seven-for-11 to fulfill this prediction, a hit rate of 63.63%. He was close in those early races, being the second-best Ganassi finisher five times. 

He got on the board at Belle Isle with his third-place finish, but he was the second-best Ganassi driver in the next two races, meaning he had to finish going six-for-eight, a hit rate of 75%.

Dixon went on a run. Five consecutive races as the top Ganassi finisher starting with his victory at Toronto through his victory at Nashville. He was then again the second-best Ganassi finisher at Gateway before hitting number seven at Portland. 

In 17 races, Dixon was either the best Ganassi finisher or the second-best Ganassi finisher 15 times. 

2. Andretti Autosport will have multiple top ten finishers in at least eight races

But this was closer to be incorrect than you would have thought. Andretti Autosport had multiple top ten finishers in exactly eight races. The eighth race was Laguna Seca. 

Where did Andretti have multiple top ten finishers?

St. Petersburg: Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean (fourth and fifth)
Long Beach: Grosjean and Alexander Rossi (second and eighth)
Barber: Grosjean and Rossi (seventh and ninth)
Belle Isle: Rossi and Herta (second and eighth)
Road America: Rossi, Grosjean and Herta (third, fourth and fifth)
Nashville: Rossi and Herta (fourth and fifth)
Portland: Herta and Rossi (sixth and seventh)
Laguna Seca: Grosjean and Rossi (seventh and tenth)

It was looking pretty good through the first eight races and then it went to hell at Mid-Ohio when the team was poised for three top ten finishers only for Rossi and Grosjean to run into each other, Herta's team to blow the pit strategy and then more contact between the teammates with even Devlin DeFrancesco getting in on the action. 

The team did fulfill the prediction at the last possible moment in the season, the tenth-place finisher crossing the line at the season finale. It had some insurance at Laguna Seca as Herta was 11th behind Rossi in tenth. But doesn't that provide a clear representation for Andretti Autosport's season? It didn't even have multiple top ten finishers in half the races this season and it was nearly a little worse than that. 

3. There will be at least three first-time winners

This prediction was looking good after the first race of the season when Scott McLaughlin scored his first career victory. At that point, we were technically on pace for 17 first-time winners this season. This prediction must have come true without much stress, right?

No. In fact, McLaughlin was the only first-time winner all season. Romain Grosjean was second at Long Beach, but never got to the top step of the podium. Jack Harvey had a dismal season and barely saw the top ten let alone a shot at a race victory. Christian Lundgaard was close in the second IMS road course race, but could not catch Alexander Rossi. David Malukas was probably the next closest possible first-time winner we saw this season with his runner-up result at Gateway to Newgarden. Jimmie Johnson didn't get close on an oval. Conor Daly wasn't really close anywhere. Callum Ilott was good, but not in contention for race victories. Kyle Kirkwood had a rookie year to forget. 

Ironically, McLaughlin won three times this season.  

4. Team Penske will not lose a race in the final five laps due to a mechanical issue

At least not in the final five laps. Team Penske did lose at least one race this season due to mechanical failure, but it was with 66 laps to go in the second Iowa race when Josef Newgarden had a right rear suspension failure while dominating. 

But the heartbreak didn’t come as late for Team Penske as it did last year on multiple occasions. Penske did win nine races this season, the top team in victories. That second Iowa race is really the only race that got away from the team.

5. Patricio O'Ward will lead the most laps in at least two races

This was a surprise. For all the speed we have seen from O'Ward and success, it was bound to happen this year. He even won twice, but he leaped ahead of Rinus VeeKay late at Barber Motorsports Park and O'Ward only led the final 27 laps there. Then there was the second Iowa race where Newgarden broke with 66 laps to go. O'Ward cleaned up from there leading to the finish. 

But that was it. He led 165 laps this season, but he only led 26 laps at the Indianapolis 500, 28 laps at Mid-Ohio from pole position before a fuel pressure issue ended his race. Then he led a smattering of laps in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis (five), Toronto (three) and Gateway (ten). 

That dominant day did not come from O'Ward this season, though he pushed for a shot at the championship into the penultimate race of the season. 

6. Simon Pagenaud and Hélio Castroneves average greater than 12.0 in final championship position

And neither Meyer Shank Racing finished in the top 12 of the championship at all. Pagenaud ended up 15th and Hélio Castroneves was 18th. That is an average of 16.5.  

I never saw Castroneves getting inside the top 12. The top fifteen was kind of the limit for Castroneves. But I could envision a world where Pagenaud could get into the top eight through consistency. That consistency wasn't there. It was one week on and two weeks off for the MSR group in 2022. The team could not find its stride in the final races of the season and the team regressed in its first year with two full-time cars. 

7. Ed Carpenter Racing will not have a top ten finish drought longer than six races

The season started well for Ed Carpenter Racing. The team was actually on a top ten streak. It had a top ten finisher in five of the first six races of the season. 

Rinus VeeKay was sixth and tenth in the first two races. In race four, VeeKay was third from pole position at Barber with 57 laps led. At Indianapolis, Conor Daly was fifth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and then sixth in the Indianapolis 500. 

The team had a two-race dip before VeeKay was fourth at Mid-Ohio. Neither car finished in the top ten at Toronto before VeeKay was fourth in the first Iowa race with six races remaining after that. All the team needed was one top ten finish from there and this prediction would be correct. It came in the second IMS road course race when VeeKay was sixth. 

Unfortunately for ECR that was the team’s last top ten finish of the season and it ended the year on a four-race skid. Better than last year but not much better. 

8. The rookie drivers will combine for fewer than four podium finishes

There were two rookies to finish on the podium this season. Christian Lundgaard was second in the July race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and David Malukas was second at Gateway. 

This prediction did go to the wire because Callum Ilott started on the front row at Laguna Seca and Malukas started seventh. If somehow two rookies wound up on the podium in the finale it would have flipped this prediction. Enough happened in IndyCar this season to not rule that out. 

But Lundgaard was the top rookie in fifth at Laguna Seca, Malukas lost positions, Ilott retired, and DeFrancesco and Kyle Kirkwood were nowhere close to the podium. The rookies had a good year, but couldn't match the veteran knowhow of the IndyCar grid.

9. There will be consecutive winners on at least two occasions

And this one was close to being correct. Three races in and we had one pair of consecutive winners down. We nearly had it down in two races. If Scott McLaughlin would have been able to hold the lead off the final corner of Texas he would have opened the season with consecutive victories, but Josef Newgarden made the pass on the outside of turn four to take the win.

Which allowed Newgarden to become the first consecutive race winner in the next race at Long Beach. There were 14 more chances for this to happen. The most notable case was Iowa. Newgarden dominated race one and was on his way to another dominant victory in race two before his right rear suspension failed while leading. 

McLaughlin was our final hope in the season finale, but he wasn't quick enough. As competitive as IndyCar is, it is surprising how rare consecutive race winners happen, at least that has been the case the last few seasons. 

10. No race will have more than 35% of its laps under caution

We had two races with more than 35% of the laps under caution, in fact, both those races had more than 40% of its laps under caution. 

The first was the changing conditions in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Thirty-one of 75 laps were under caution, 41.333%. 

That was bad enough, but the conditions played a hand into it. It happens. 

Then IndyCar returned to Nashville and somehow ran more laps under caution than last year. Thirty-six out of 80 laps were behind the safety car in Nashville, 45% of the laps. Ugh. 

11. Jimmie Johnson will be involved in 0.25 cautions or fewer per start

Johnson's second season saw him contest all the IndyCar races, ovals included, and while he got to visit all of the road/street courses for a second time, things didn't quite get better than last year.

The first caution for Johnson came at Long Beach when he and David Malukas got together in turn eight with ten laps to go. That meant Johnson had three more cautions to burn. He burned a second in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis when he spun in the changing conditions. Two burned with 12 races remaining. That pace wasn't promising. 

Then Johnson caused the penultimate caution in the Indianapolis 500 with six laps to go! We were so close to making it through this race. One caution left and 11 races. Not a great picture. 

We made it one more full race without a caution before Johnson spun on the opening lap at Road America. That is it! Johnson reached his limit through eight races. He couldn't be involved in another caution in the final nine races for this prediction to be correct. 

He escaped Mid-Ohio unscathed and actually had his best road/street course finish up to that point in what was arguably his best road/street course weekend. 

But then Johnson and Kirkwood got together at Toronto. That's it. Over! Prediction wrong. Doesn't matter how many more he got. For kicks and giggles, Johnson caused the first caution in the first Iowa race when he straddled the apron in turn four and lost the car. He made it two full races before he had a hard accident at Nashville. Then he and VeeKay got together at Portland and Johnson hit the barrier at the end of the front straightaway approaching turn one. 

That is eight cautions from 17 starts, an average of 0.4705 cautions per start. Slightly better than his 0.5 cautions per start, but basically identical to last year. 
12. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's qualifying average will be 12.5 or under

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing didn't find its qualifying form in 2022. This prediction was in trouble from the opening three weekends. 

Its best entry at St. Petersburg was Graham Rahl in 11th. None of the three cars qualified better than 24th at Texas. At Long Beach, Rahal was the best started in 13th. Things saw minor improvement over the next two races. Rahal was the top qualifier in ninth at Barber while all three cars started in the top fifteen. All three cars started in the top 12 for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. There was promise. 

Then all three cars started outside the top twenty for he Indianapolis 500 with Christian Lundgaard and Jack Harvey both on the last row. That didn't kill this prediction, but it was clear the team wasn't going to get close to it. 

RLLR didn't have a car start in the top fifteen in two of the next three races. Things did see a boost in the next seven races. RLLR had at least one top ten started in six of the next seven races, but the team did have seven cars starting outside the top fifteen in that span. 

Overall, the team's average qualifying position this season was 16.1764. Not really close to being correct. This prediction was dead before we even reached the season finale. If RLLR had gone 1-2-3 in qualifying at Laguna Seca, the average would have only dropped to 15.196. 

What needed to be done for this prediction to be correct? RLLR had to go 1-2-3 over the final six races of the season to get below 12.5. That was never going to happen. 

Six for 12. An improvement over last year, but still with more room for growth.

2021: 4/12
2020: 8/11 (one prediction was about Richmond, which never happened)
2019: 5.5/12
2018: 6/12
2017: 8/12
2016: 6/12
2015: 8/12
2014: 10/14

Champions From the Weekend
You know about Ducati, but did you know...

The #32 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts clinched the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup championship with a third-place finish in the first race of the weekend from Valencia. The #32 Audi capped the weekend and the seaosn with a victory in the second Valencia race.

Raffaele Marciello clinched the GT World Challenge Europe championship with finishes of seventh and third from Valencia.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Enea Bastianini, but did you know...

Chris Buescher won the NASCAR Cup race at Bristol, his first Cup victory since August 1, 2016. Noah Gragson won the Grand National Series race, his sixth victory of the season and his third consecutive victory. Ty Majeski won the Truck race, his first career victory.

Pedro Acosta won the Moto2 race from Aragón, his second victory of the season. Izan Guevara won the Moto3 race, his fourth victory of the season.

The #3 NDDP Racing Nissan of Katsumasa Chiyo and Mitsunori Takaboshi won the Super GT race at Sportsland SUGO. The #2 meta Racing INGING Toyota of Hiroki Katoh and Yuki Tsutsumi won in GT300. 

The #53 AF Corse Ferrari of Pierre-Alexander Jean and Ulysse De Pau won the first GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup race from Valencia.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP returns to Japan for the first time since 2019.
NASCAR is at Texas.
European Le Mans Series' penultimate round at Spa-Francorchamps. 
Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters' penultimate round at the Red Bull Ring.
GT World Challenge America's penultimate round at Sebring.
World Superbike will be at Barcelona.