Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Best of the Month: November 2022

November feels like the true end to the motorsports season. December is just excessive. Nearly every championship is decided. There are very few races remaining in the calendar year. January is when things will pick up and the excitement will start to build. At the present moment, it is a lull ahead of us, but not a bad one. It is good to have a break. There is so much more to life than this stuff. 

Before we get into December, the big event in November was the end of the Formula One season. This is the right time to put a bow on that season, and in one case, a bow on one of the best careers the series ever saw.

Unraveling the Myth of Sebastian Vettel
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was the final start for Sebastian Vettel in Formula One after he announced his retirement during the season. Though some are wondering if Vettel could return like fellow past champions Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso, I get the sense we will never see Vettel in a race car again unless it is in Race of Champions. 

Unfortunately, Vettel is leaving on a low note. Nine seasons removed from his fourth and final championship and over three years removed from his 53rd and final victory. 

Because of the last few seasons, I think there is a split in the story of Sebastian Vettel, especially as Formula One viewership has increased over the last four years. The newer crowd only saw a portion of Vettel's career that doesn't tell the full story, and the one that is being conjured looking at the history book isn't the most accurate.

Vettel was a four-time champion and one of the best at the start of the 2010s, and frankly the entire decade. But Vettel didn't have it easy. He didn't just have the best car, won four titles and then became unremarkable once the new regulations came in and switched teams. Vettel won two of those championships in scrappy battles that went to the final race. 

It is forgotten that he did not lead the championship in 2010 until the end of the final race of the season when he won at Abu Dhabi to take the title by four points over Alonso and ten points over his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. Only 16 points covered Vettel to Lewis Hamilton in fourth in the only season in Formula One history where four drivers entered the season finale with a shot at the championship. 

Vettel had to be near flawless in the final six races to take that championship. After finishing 15th at the Belgian Grand Prix, Vettel entered Monza 31 points behind Hamilton in the championship lead. Alonso was 41 points back and those two went on a tear to close out the season. Alonso won in Italy and Singapore while Vettel was fourth and second. Webber now led the championship with 202 points, three ahead of Alonso, 20 ahead of Hamilton and 21 clear of Vettel. 

In Japan, Vettel took victory and he was looking good for another in South Korea and taking the championship lead in the process until the engine failed with ten laps to go. Alonso scooped up a victory and an 11-point lead over Webber while Hamilton was 21 points back and Vettel trailed by 25 points. Vettel entered the penultimate race needing to not lose any ground to Alonso to remain alive for the title.

Red Bull went 1-2 at Interlagos with Vettel leading Webber. Alonso was third and Hamilton was fourth. It set up Alonso eight points clear of Webber, 15 ahead of Vettel and 22 points above Hamilton entering the Abu Dhabi finale. Vettel took pole position and Webber qualified fifth, the worst of the four contenders. Webber made a early pit stop and was running fast enough to force Alonso to pit, taking both drivers out of point scoring positions. Both drivers struggled to make their way through traffic, but did get back into the point positions until they became stuck behind Vitaly Petrov despite having fresher tires. 

Vettel opened a healthy lead over Hamilton and went on to take victory while Alonso and Webber finished seventh and eighth. This gave Vettel the championship by four points over Alonso, who needed to finish fourth. 

He had to climb over another sizable Alonso lead in 2012. After Monza, he was 39 points back with seven races to go. Vettel won the next four races and caught a break when Alonso was caught in an opening lap incident in Japan. The Spaniard's lead decreased to four points alone after that race and after Vettel's four-race streak, the German was up 13 points with three to play and it remained 13 points entering the Brazil finale. 

On the opening lap, Vettel spun and was running in last place while Alonso would just need a podium to take the title. In changing conditions, Vettel climbed back up the order but with a damaged car his drive was hampered as Alonso continued to fight for the lead. Alonso was second and Vettel was sixth, enough for Vettel to take the title by three points. 

Too often is Vettel only remembered for the dominance, and he did dominate, but it wasn't an untouchable period for four years. His 2011 and 2013 championships were sensational displays of talent. Whether it was Vettel getting the most out of the car and finishing no worse than fourth in 17 consecutive races or ending a season with nine consecutive victories, it was brilliance in action. 

As for the end, the turbo hybrid era came at a rough time. Renault's unreliability dismantled his confidence in Red Bull. Combined with interst in Ferrari, Vettel made the move to Maranello. He won races and even took the fight to Mercedes and Hamilton. 

The turning point in Vettel's career is the 2018 German Grand Prix. Ferrari had the best car that season. Enteirng that race, Vettel was eight points up on Hamilton, had four victories to Hamilton's three and Ferrari was 20 points up on Mercedes. Vettel was on pole position while Hamilton started 14th after suffering a hydraulics failure in qualifying. 

It wasn't long until Vettel appeared to be in control of the race. Rain started to fall with about 20 laps remaining and Vettel slipped off the circuit in the stadium section at Hockenheim on lap 52 of 67. The German was done in his home race. All these events fell in order that allowed Hamilton to take the lead after overcoming his poor starting position. Hamilton won the race and went from -8 to +17. 

Vettel never recovered. Hamilton would finish on the podium in the next seven races and in nine of the final ten events. The only races where Vettel managed to finish ahead of Hamilton were Belgium and Mexico, and in Mexico, Hamilton clinched the title with a fourth-place result. 

Ferrari went through a revolving door of team principals during Vettel's time at the team. Leadership issues still plague the Scuderia, but Vettel joined at a bad time, administratively speaking. Combined with the rise of Charles Leclerc, Vettel's time was up after 2020. His final years with Aston Martin... they really aren't worth mentioning. 

There was a wonderful celebration of Vettel at Abu Dhabi earlier this month ahead of his final race. He received a dinner with all the drivers and fans genuinely cheered his final laps. This is the driver that is third all-time in victories leaving, one of five drivers with at least four championships. He didn't just get lucky. Vettel drove tooth and nail against Hamilton and Alonso, two of the greatest of all-time as well. He fought out of deep holes most drivers couldn't ever imagine coming out of. 

The final years were unsatisfying because of how great Vettel was at his very best. It is an unfortunate circumstance when success is consolidated to a brief period in time. It was a sustained period but there is an audience that will only have part of the picture and missed something truly special. 

Full Grid Points
Back in August, Anthony Davidson may have convinced me to change my mind when he said in an interview that points should be paid to every position in a Formula One race. After he said that, I figured out a proportional system, did the math and tabulated what the standings would have looked like with that system as the summer break approached.

The season is over, and I thought we would look at the full grid standings now that every race is complete. There were a few notable differences in the standings that arguably provided a more accurate position of the 2022 season during the summer. What does it look like after 22 races?

Quick reminder, the standing pays points as follows for classified finishes: 50-36-30-28-26-24-22-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1. No fastest lap point. No sprint qualifying points.

Full Grid Drivers' Standings (Change to actual championship position)
1. Max Verstappen - 861 (-)
2. Sergio Pérez - 607 (+1)
3. George Russell - 582 (+1)
4. Charles Leclerc - 561 (-2)
5. Lewis Hamilton - 540 (+1)
6. Carlos Sainz, Jr. - 492  (-1)
7. Lando Norris - 400 (-)
8. Esteban Ocon - 378 (-)
9. Fernando Alonso - 313 (-)
10. Valtteri Bottas - 260 (-)
11. Sebastian Vettel - 260 (+1)
12. Lance Stroll - 257 (+3)
13. Pierre Gasly - 245.5 (+1)
14. Daniel Ricciardo - 241 (-3)
15. Alexander Albon - 183 (+4)
16. Kevin Magnussen - 182 (-3)
17. Guanyu Zhou - 175.5 (+1)
18. Mick Schumacher - 172 (-2)
19. Yuki Tsunoda - 162 (-2)
20. Nicholas Latifi - 95 (-)
21. Nyck de Vries - 18 (-)
22. Nico Hülkenberg - 16 (-)

Constructors' Standings
1. Red Bull - 1,468 (-)
2. Mercedes - 1,122 (+1)
3. Ferrari - 1,053 (-1)
4. Alpine - 778 (-)
5. McLaren - 661 (-)
6. Aston Martin - 520 (+1)
7. Alfa Romeo - 432 (-1)
8. AlphaTauri - 407.5 (+1)
9. Haas - 358.5 (-1)
10. Williams - 200 (-)

A few drivers at the top get shuffled. Sergio Pérez would have made it a Red Bull 1-2 in the drivers' championship while George Russell's consistency would lift him above Charles Leclerc and the two Mercedes would combine to top Ferrari in the constructors' championship. I think either way you slice it works. Mercedes only won once but it had a more reliable car than Ferrari. If Mercedes had ended up second no one would have batted an eye at such a result. 

The big winner in this system is Alexander Albon, and it puts his season in better perspective. In the current system, he is 19th in the championship and only two points ahead of his teammate Nicholas Latifi. While Albon's four points is double Latifi's total, two points is nothing. Albon finished between 11th and 13th ten times in a 22-race season. Adding three top ten finishes means he was in the middle third of the field for over half the races. Meanwhile, Latifi had two finishes better than 13th all season. 

Lance Stroll would also jump up three spots in the championship that would lift Aston Martin up to sixth in the constructors'. Aston Martin might not have been a great car, but this changes the perception. It lifts up Aston Martin while knocking Alfa Romeo down a peg. Stroll had two retirements all season and finished 13th or better in 16 of 22 races. 

This system wouldn't just reward drivers who get a car to the end, but it would greatly benefit teams with two producing drivers over one. Albon scored more points than both Haas drivers, but Latifi's form meant Haas still finished over 150 points clear of Williams. I think such a system might force teams to make midseason driver changes. Albon showed what that car was capable of and finding a second driver that could match Albon would lift the team. 

Alpine would have been comfortably in fourth instead of having a tough fight with McLaren. That is because Daniel Ricciardo wasn't close to matching the results of Lando Norris. If McLaren had someone close to Norris in the second car, it could have pushed for fourth. 

If every position paid points, it would force teams to be honest because it couldn't hope that a few top ten finishes and maybe a lucky day would be enough to get an extra spot in the constructors' championship. Every position would have a designated weight and there would be a difference between 11th and 12th, 14th and 15th, 16th and 17th. Every driver would have something to race for and not just settle when a team is off and not in touching distance of tenth. Success in the constructors' championship would be a more accurate picture of a team's total strength.

I am coming around to the full grid points system because I think it would only intensify the battle throughout the field and force drivers to perform at a higher level. It would only also force teams to take more chances because having a weak link would be more noticeable than it is under the current system. 

With all the changes happening in Formula One, I could see points being awarded to the entire field in the very near future. That fantasy could be here sooner rather than later. 

December Preview
There is not much racing going on in December. Supercars will end its season with a return to Adelaide and the Gulf 12 Hours will conclude the Intercontinental GT World Challenge season. 

As for this space, we will have a few review items coming in the coming weeks. We will had out some awards for the year and then we will turn our attention to predictions for 2023 before the calendar flips over to January.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Musings From the Weekend: What If IndyCar Had Playoffs?

Lewis Hamilton won a championship this weekend. Hamilton's Extreme E team, Team X44, won the series championship with drivers Cristina Gutiérrez and Sébastien Loeb. Max Verstappen drove a Honda NSX Super GT car. Kyle Larson drove a midget car. Danial Suárez is taking the plunge and will soon have questionable in-laws. If the World Cup was based on best racetrack, Japan would win apparently, and the United States would be a semifinalist with Circuit of the Americas? Ok. Jack Harvey and Christian Lundgaard are switching numbers and sponsors. Scott McLaughlin will have a meat sponsor. Daniel Ricciardo confirmed he will be Red Bull's reserve driver. Mattia Binotto could be out at Ferrari. Bathurst 12 Hour entries are coming in. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

What If IndyCar Had Playoffs?
One enjoyable podcast is Off Track with James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi. 

During the IndyCar season, Off Track provides good insight from what happened during race weekends and provides a good temperature of the season. During the IndyCar offseason, it is two guys who talk racing, from Formula One to NASCAR to sports cars while also giving updates of the offseason and other IndyCar news. Both Hinchcliffe and Rossi are intelligent gentlemen who will honestly give their assessment of something they saw or what they think about a particular decision. 

While the NASCAR season was winding down, they both wondered what IndyCar would look like if there was a playoff format. Both assess an IndyCar playoff would have to be different in terms of length and size due to the number of full-time IndyCar entries and the number of races. 

We are coming off a holiday. I don't want to do anything too serious. Let's placate Off Track's imagination. 

IndyCar is set up where a two-round playoff could work. Three races in the first round before the final decides the championship. Eight is a good number of playoff participants. That is about a third of the grid. Four drivers advance to the finale. Four drivers do not. 

Using that as the format, let's look at this as if IndyCar implemented playoffs simultaneously with NASCAR and followed the same procedures. That means from 2014 to 2016 the field reset, and all eight drivers had the same number of points, for this sake they will start on 1,000 points. 

Starting in 2017, there would be playoff points, plus the playoff points for regular season championship finish. I am not going to go back and figure out stages for six seasons. In IndyCar's case, a regular season win gets a driver five playoff points. As is the case in NASCAR, win a semifinal race and you advance to the finale. Also, as is the case in NASCAR, there is an Entrants' Championship playoff, and of course there are some discrepancies between the drivers' and entrants' championship in a few of these IndyCar seasons. 

With the IndyCar playoff only having eight drivers, I adjusted the regular season championship bonus to being for the top eight in the regular season and awarding points to the respective positions as follows: 15-10-6-5-4-3-2-1 

Who would have made it?
1. Will Power (St. Petersburg and Belle Isle I winner)
2. Ryan Hunter-Reay (Barber, Indianapolis 500 and Iowa winner)
3. Simon Pagenaud (Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Houston II winner)
4. Hélio Castroneves (Belle Isle II winner)
5. Carlos Huertas (Houston I winner)
6. Juan Pablo Montoya (Pocono winner)
7. Sébastien Bourdais (Toronto I winner)
8. Scott Dixon (Points)

Is there an Entrants' Championship Discrepancy? 
Yes. The #20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet won three times during the season, twice with Mike Conway and once with Carpenter. The #20 ECR entry would have made the Entrants' Championship Playoffs while Scott Dixon's #9 Chip Ganassi Racing entry would not have made it. 

How Does the Semifinal Play Out?
Dixon and Power would have advanced with their victories at Mid-Ohio and Milwaukee respectively. Montoya and Pagenaud would have advanced on points. Since the #9 Ganassi didn't make the entrants' playoffs, the #11 KV Racing entry of Bourdais would have advanced to the final.

And Your Champion Would Be...?
Dixon thanks to a runner-up finish at Fontana. Montoya would have been second in the championship after finishing fourth. Power would be third after finishing ninth and Pagenaud was 20th on track. 

The #2 Penske would have been the entrants' champions.

How Different Would It Have Been?
Dixon would have gone from third to first and won consecutive championships for the first time in his career. This would have been his fourth title. Castroneves would drop from second to seventh while Power would go from first to third. 

Montoya would be up two spots to second while Pagenaud would be up a spot. Bourdais would leap from tenth to fifth in the championship while Hunter-Reay would have no change in his championship finish. The playoff would have been a big gain for Huertas, who was 20th in the actual championship, but ended up eighth thanks to his victory with an illegal car in a rain-shortened Houston race.

Who would have made it?
1. Montoya (St. Petersburg and Indianapolis 500 winner)
2. Dixon (Long Beach and Texas winner)
3. Josef Newgarden (Barber and Toronto winner)
4. Power (Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner)
5. Carlos Muñoz (Belle Isle I winner)
6. Sébastien Bourdais (Belle Isle II winner)
7. Graham Rahal (Fontana winner)
8. Hélio Castroneves (Points)

Is there an Entrants' Championship Discrepancy? 
Yes, because James Hinchcliffe won the NOLA Motorsports Park race, the second round of the season, and then Hinchcliffe was injured in Indianapolis 500 practice. The #5 Schmidt Petersen Motorsports entry would have made the playoffs while the #3 Team Penske entry would not have qualified. 

How Does the Semifinal Play Out?
Rahal would have been the only driver to advance on a victory. Rahal won at Mid-Ohio. Hunter-Reay won the other two races in the semifinal round at Iowa and Pocono, but Hunter-Reay was 14th in the championship after the Milwaukee regular season finale on 227 points while Castroneves qualified for the playoffs with 370 points.

How do those other three championship race spots get determined? Newgarden would have ended the round with the most points, 1,104. Muñoz would have been second in the round on 1,082 points, 12 more than Power, who would have made the finale. Power would have qualified by two points over Dixon. 

And Your Champion Would Be...?
Power with a seventh-place finish at Sonoma in what would have been an otherwise anti-climactic finale. Muñoz ended up 22nd after an accident while Newgarden was only a spot better after a pit stop problem. It would have been somewhat close with Power and Rahal and both cars were incidents. Power and Montoya got together, and Power was caught out when the pit lane was closed under one caution. That likely would have handed it to Rahal until Rahal was spun in the hairpin by Bourdais.

The race would have played out much different if these drivers were finalists. Bourdais wouldn't have made that move on Rahal. 

How Different Would It Have Been?
Power and Dixon effectively swap titles. Dixon gets 2014 instead of Power and Power gets 2015 instead of Dixon. We wouldn't have had the title decided on a tiebreaker after Dixon won the finale while Montoya finished sixth and spent the entire season leading the championship. 

Rahal would have been second, which would have felt more representative of his season than fourth, his actual championship finish. Newgarden would have gained four points and Muñoz would have gained nine spots. 

Dixon would have been fifth while Montoya, Castroneves and Bourdais rounded out the top eight. Those drivers would have changes of -4, -3, -2 and +3 from their actual championship finish. 

Lost in this format would have been Hunter-Reay's finish to the season. Hunter-Reay got up to sixth in the championship after his final four race flourish to the 2015 season. With the playoff format, the best he could do would be ninth.

Who would have made it?
1. Montoya (St. Petersburg winner)
2. Dixon (Phoenix winner)
3. Pagenaud (Long Beach, Birmingham, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio winner)
4. Alexander Rossi (Indianapolis 500 winner)
5. Bourdais (Belle Isle I winner)
6. Power (Belle Isle II, Road America, Toronto winner)
7. Newgarden (Iowa winner)
8. Castroneves (Points)

Is there an Entrants' Championship Discrepancy? 

How Does the Semifinal Play Out?
Power makes the finale with his victory at Pocono. Dixon makes it after winning at Watkins Glen. The other race was a Graham Rahal victory at Texas. I know that Texas race was started in June and finished in August. With a playoff format, I doubt that Texas race takes nearly three months to finish and would have been a playoff race, but I cannot finesse a world where the semifinal round would have been Mid-Ohio, Pocono and Watkins Glen. Take what you get and don't get upset.

Two spots would have been decided on points. Those would go to Newgarden and Bourdais, and Bourdais would make it by ten points over Pagenaud, who would have been the best driver in the regular season. 

And Your Champion Would Be...?
It would have been Josef Newgarden with Ed Carpenter Racing! Newgarden was sixth at Sonoma. This would have been another semi-anticlimactic finale as well as Bourdais was tenth, but Dixon had issues with his radio force an extra pit stop, and Power had an engine failure take him out of a podium position, leaving those two 17th and 20th respectively. 

How Different Would It Have Been?
Pagenaud would have gone from first to fifth. Coincidentally, this season would fall in line with some early Cup playoffs where the best drivers from the regular season had one bad playoff race keep them from advancing and it led to the introduction of playoff points and the regular season championship bonus. Pagenaud would have been in line with that and 2017 saw playoff points introduced. 

Newgarden would go from fourth to first, Bourdais from 14th to second, Dixon from sixth to third and Power from second to fourth. 

Castroneves would drop from third to seventh, Montoya would go from eighth to sixth and Rossi would go from 11th to eighth. 

Who would have made it?
1. Newgarden - 1,030 points (three victories plus first in the regular season)
2. Castroneves - 1,015 (one victory plus second)
3. Power - 1,014 (two victories plus fifth)
4. Rahal - 1,013 (two victories plus sixth)
5. Dixon - 1,011 (one victory plus third)
6. Pagenaud - 1,010 (one victory plus fourth)
7. Takuma Sato - 1,007 (one victory plus seventh)
8. James Hinchcliffe - 1,005 (one victory)

Is there an Entrants' Championship Discrepancy? 

But you will remember Sébastien Bourdais won the season opener in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Though Bourdais won that race, there ended up being nine entries to win in the regular season with eight playoff spots available. With the #18 Honda not winning again, it ended up ranked nine of those nine winning entries and ended up outside the playoffs. 

How Does the Semifinal Play Out?
Power wins at Pocono and advances. 

Newgarden wins at Gateway and advances. 

Rossi wins at Watkins Glen and doesn't change a thing because Rossi didn't make the playoffs. Two drivers would make it on points. Dixon would advance with 1,118 points while Castroneves would make it on 1,111 points, one more than Pagenaud. 

And Your Champion Would Be...?
For the first time in the playoff era, the regular season champion would be the champion as Newgarden would finish second at Sonoma to take the title. The final four drivers would finish second, third (Power), fourth (Dixon) and fifth (Castroneves).

How Different Would It Have Been?
This is also the first time the actual champion and the hypothetical playoff champion would have been the same. Newgarden was first and remains first.

As for the rest of the positions, Pagenaud would be a big loser again, this time dropping from second to fifth. Dixon and Castroneves would finish in their actual positions while Power would just from fifth to second. 

Rahal would remain sixth. Rossi wouldn't get his end of season surge to seventh. Sato would be a spot better than his actual finish and Hinchcliffe would get to be eighth instead of 13th. 

Who would have made it?
1. Dixon - 1,030 (three victories plus first)
2. Newgarden - 1,021 (three victories plus third)
3. Rossi - 1,020 (two victories plus second)
4. Power - 1,015 (two victories plus fourth)
5. Hunter-Reay - 1,009 (one victory plus fifth)
6. Bourdais - 1,005 (one victory)
7. Hinchcliffe - 1,005 (one victory)
8. Robert Wickens - 1,003 (sixth)

Is there an Entrants' Championship Discrepancy? 
Kind of... Wickens was hurt in the first race of the playoffs at Pocono. While that would eliminate Wickens from the drivers' championship, the #6 Schmidt Petersen Motorsports entry would have remained in the entrants' playoffs. 

However, SPM did not run the #6 Honda in the second race of the semifinal round at Gateway, meaning Portland would have been a must-win, and Carlos Muñoz did not get a victory to advance this car to the final.

How Does the Semifinal Play Out?
Rossi and Power would split the first two playoff races at Pocono and Gateway. Sato won at Portland meaning two finale spots would be determined on points. 

Dixon would have made it on 1,134 points. Newgarden would make it with 1,098 points while Bourdais would finish 17 points short of the finale.

And Your Champion Would Be...?
For the second consecutive season, the regular season champion would be the championship. Dixon was second at Sonoma and would be champion. Power was third on the road with Rossi in seventh and Newgarden in eighth. 

How Different Would It Have Been?
And for the second consecutive year the actual champion and hypothetical playoff champion would be the same. Dixon's fifth title would still come in 2018. 

Rossi and Power flip spots, as does Newgarden and Hunter-Reay, as Hunter-Reay ended up fourth in the actual championship. Bourdais would be up a spot and Hinchcliffe and Wickens would go from tied for tenth to seventh and eighth. Pagenaud would have been the big loser dropping from sixth to ninth as he didn't make the playoffs. 

Who would have made it?
1. Newgarden - 1,035 (four victories plus first)
2. Pagenaud - 1,021 (three victories plus third)
3. Rossi - 1,020 (two victories plus second)
4. Dixon - 1,015 (two victories plus fourth)
5. Sato - 1,007 (one victory plus seventh)
6. Colton Herta - 1,005 (one victory)
7. Power - 1,004 (fifth)
8. Hunter-Reay - 1,003 (sixth)

Is there an Entrants' Championship Discrepancy? 

How Does the Semifinal Play Out?
Power wins two semifinal races (Pocono and Portland) and Sato won Gateway. They advance.

Newgarden would be safe on 1,124 points while Pagenaud takes the final spot on 1,115 points. Pagenaud would advance with some comfort. He would be 31 points clear of Rossi in fifth, 34 clear of Dixon, 39 clear of Herta and 65 points ahead of Hunter-Reay.

And Your Champion Would Be...?
Power takes his second championship three years ahead of reality with a runner-up finish at Laguna Seca. Pagenaud would be second after finishing fourth while regular season champion Newgarden was eighth on the road. Sato was 21st in the finale. 

How Different Would It Have Been?
Power is up four spots from the actual championship, Pagenaud remains the same, Newgarden is down two and Sato is up five. 

Herta would have been fifth, up two spots. Dixon drops from fourth to sixth. Rossi drops from third to seventh and Hunter-Reay remains eighth. Lost is Felix Rosenqvist's rookie season, which had him sixth in the championship and five points ahead of Herta in the final standings. 

Who would have made it?
1. Dixon - 1,035 (four victories plus first)
2. Newgarden - 1,020 (two victories plus second)
3. Sato - 1,010 (one victory plus fourth)
4. Power - 1,009 (one victory plus fifth)
5. Pagenaud - 1,006 (one victory plus eighth)
6. Patricio O'Ward - 1,006 (third)
7. Felix Rosenqvist - 1,005 (one victory)
8. Herta (sixth)

Is there an Entrants' Championship Discrepancy? 

How Does the Semifinal Play Out?
This is the first season where each of the three semifinal races had a playoff participant win meaning only one finalist would make it on points. 

Herta won at Mid-Ohio, Newgarden and Power split the Harvest Grand Prix weekend on the IMS road course. The final spot would go to Dixon with 1,101 points. The regular season championship would be 33 points clear of Pagenaud, 35 points ahead of O'Ward, 38 points better than his teammate Rosenqvist and Sato would fall 50 points short.

And Your Champion Would Be...?
The 2020 season finale would see Newgarden win the final race and take the title, the first time in the playoff era the champion would have won the finale. Dixon would be second after finishing third while Herta's late race mechanical woes would have him finish 11th and Power's early crash would end his championship hopes. 

How Different Would It Have Been?
Dixon and Newgarden flipflop. Dixon would not have a sixth title, but Newgarden would now have three. Herta remains third. Power and O'Ward swap spots. Pagenaud goes from eighth to sixth. Rosenqvist jumps four spots to seventh. Sato drops one to eighth. Graham Rahal would be the big loser as he was sixth in the actual championship and wouldn't have made the playoffs. 

Who would have made it?
1. Álex Palou - 1,025 (two victories plus first)
2. O'Ward - 1,020 (two victories plus second)
3. Ericsson - 1,014 (two victories plus fifth)
4. Dixon - 1,011 (one victory plus third)
5. Newgarden - 1,010 (one victory plus fourth)
6. Herta - 1,007 (one victory plus seventh)
7. Power - 1,005 (one victory)
8. Rinus VeeKay - 1,005 (one victory)

Is there an Entrants' Championship Discrepancy? 

How Does the Semifinal Play Out?
This would be the second consecutive year where each semifinal round determined a semifinalist. 

Newgarden (Gateway), Palou (Portland) and Herta (Laguna Seca) would advance. The one spot on points would go to O'Ward. The Mexican would finish on 1,108 points, 17 points ahead of Ericsson with Dixon 33 points on the outside. Power would fall 44 points short and VeeKay 69 points short.

And Your Champion Would Be...?
Herta would win the final two races to win the championship while Newgarden would be second on the road at Long Beach and second in the championship. Palou was fourth in Long Beach finale while O'Ward's early accident and gearbox issues would leave him in 27th in the race. 

How Different Would It Have Been?
Very because Herta would have won the championship, been awarded 40 Super License points and likely have gone to Formula One instead of returning for another IndyCar season in 2022. 

Palou drops two places, Newgarden would remain second and O'Ward drops one. Dixon drops one to fifth. Ericsson remains sixth. Power would gain two to seventh and VeeKay would gain four to eighth. 

Rahal and Pagenaud would fall out of the top eight because they did not make the playoffs.

Who would have made it?
1. Newgarden - 1,026 (four victories plus third)
2. Power - 1,020 (one victory plus first)
3. Ericsson - 1,015 (one victory plus second)
4. O'Ward - 1,014 (two victories plus fifth)
5. Scott McLaughlin - 1,012 (two victories plus seventh)
6. Dixon - 1,010 (one victory plus fourth)
7. Rossi - 1,006 (one victory plus eighth)
8. Herta - 1,005 (one victory)

Is there an Entrants' Championship Discrepancy? 

How Does the Semifinal Play Out?
Dixon wins Nashville and advances, Newgarden wins Gateway and advances, McLaughlin wins Portland and advances. 

On points, Power takes it with 1,112 points, 27 points ahead of O'Ward, 30 in front of Herta, 35 more than Ericsson and Rossi would have been 43 points short.

And Your Champion Would Be...?
For the fourth time, Newgarden would be champion as he finished second in the Laguna Seca race ahead of Power in third while McLaughlin was sixth and Dixon was 12th.

How Different Would It Have Been?
Power would still be a two-time champion, only three years removed from that title. Him and Newgarden would flip from their actual positions, as would have Dixon and McLaughlin. 

Palou would not have made the playoffs and he would not have finished fifth in the championship. He would have been ninth. O'Ward is up two spots to fifth while Herta would be up four to sixth. Ericsson drops a spot to seventh while Rossi gains a spot to eighth.

Final Scorecard Assessment
Dixon would only have five championships, Newgarden would have four, Power would still have two and Herta would have one while Pagenaud and Palou would have none. 

It doesn't look that much different than what we actually saw. I guess Newgarden's four titles would be quite seismic. We think Newgarden is special now with two titles. Imagine if he just won his fourth championship at 31 years old. We would almost be penciling him in for eight and surpassing A.J. Foyt's record while probably cooling our jets on Dixon doing it as he would still need two more to tie but would be four years removed from his fifth title. We might even be pushing Newgarden as more of a Formula One hopeful if he had four titles. 

If there were playoffs, every race over the past nine seasons would have been run differently. The preparation would have been different. The finales would be treated differently. If Newgarden spins in qualifying at Laguna Seca with this format, I don't think he goes from 25th to second and wins the championship. Power would have prevented that. 

There are a few surprises in there. Carlos Muñoz would have been a finalist. Do you think his career would have continued on the same path if he went into the 2015 finale with a shot at the title? I don't think Muñoz is M.I.A in 2022 if that occurs. 

There are a few quirky things if there were playoffs. Carlos Huertas would have been eighth in the championship because he won one timed, rain-shortened race at Houston while saving fuel with a fuel cell that was larger than regulated. That might have caused a small riot in 2014 IndyCar. Imagine if Ed Carpenter Racing had actually won the title in 2016 with Newgarden. That definitely would have caused a small riot, but a celebratory riot. The kind we see when the city of Philadelphia wins a championship. 

Is IndyCar doing something wrong not having a playoff format? 

Considering the lack of championships that have adopted some type of playoff reset format, I would say no. It also ignores that there have been some compelling championships. With a playoff format, we would have lost the 2015 battle between Dixon and Montoya, which went to the final lap. The 2017 finale began with a third-point difference between Newgarden and Dixon entering while Castroneves and Pagenaud were both within 34 points and Power and Rossi each had slim shots at the title. That is six drivers with a shot at the title in the final race. A playoff would short us of two contenders in that case. The 2020 finale battle would have effectively remained the same, but Dixon would have been forced to do more than finish third. Third would not have been enough. 

An argument could be made IndyCar would have gained with a playoff format because Dixon could not settle for third in 2020. In 2017, the championship drivers would have finished in four consecutive spots on the racetrack, but the difference is Newgarden carried a cushion from the first 16 races into that finale. He had breathing room because of his results. Should that breathing room not exist and the championship all be down to one race with whoever finishes better be champion? 

That is the problem with the singularity of such a finale. When there is a reset then one race decides it. Every other race kind of decides who gets there with added weight on the three races prior to the finale, but who is champion is all down to one result on that one given day. What happened at Barber Motorsports Park in April cannot save you. However, what happened at Barber in April also doesn't hurt you in that case. 

The one thing that cannot be denied with the NASCAR playoffs is those races see more out of the top drivers than ever before. Ross Chastain's move at Martinsville is the only piece of evidence needed. A driver purposefully drove into the wall hoping to go faster than the rest of the field and it worked and advanced Chastain to the final race. That wouldn't happen if he was just fifth in the championship and the best he could possibly finish in points was third. 

But does heightening the importance of certain races mean the winners are better drivers? 

I am not sure those two things match one another. Generally, races mattered more when they paid more. That is why the Indianapolis 500 survived and races at Speedway Park outside Chicago and races in Tacoma didn't. They mattered because they paid and in the case of Indianapolis it was the only 500-mile race for its time.

A shift in how the system decides a championship effectively making these races matter more is the equivalent of pressing a thumb on a scale. They matter more because we say they matter more.

If IndyCar adopted such a playoff system, I think you would see more chances taken. More teams would try alternate strategies in certain races. More teams would stretch fuel. You would probably see more daring pass attempts. All of those things are what viewers want. But at what cost?

I think there is a danger in making races free-for-alls. We see it in NASCAR where respect is close to zero between competitors. A win is a golden ticket. It will come at any cost. But the issue is the drivers look at one another as obstacles to bowl into and not race. If hitting a guy is the difference from being a championship contender or not, they will hit that driver and not try for the clean pass. 

It nullifies what it means to be a great driver and the skill it takes to be great over an entire season and rewards a few good moments over a season while ignoring everything else that happens. The playoff format is too rewarding to success and does not come with a detriment of poor results. As long as you win a race, you are fine. You can be slightly below average or even straight up bad for the rest of the season and still be fine once you make the playoffs. 

In a full season aggregate system, bad results drag a driver down. Four consecutive finishes outside the top fifteen are noticeable. Newgarden lost the championship this season partially because he had four finishes outside the top ten in the first six events. 

With a playoff format, Newgarden cannot dig himself into a hole. Once you are in, you are in. That is the floor, you can only build from there. Newgarden wouldn't have really lost any ground despite those results because he had already won twice and would go on to win four times in the first 11 races. 

Meanwhile, Power kept finishing in the top five. He had five top five finishes to open the season. He had eight top five finishes in the first 11 races, half of which were podium results. Power pulled away while Newgarden struggled. Newgarden found success and made a push, but those bad results were too much to overcome while Power never had a significant dip in form. 

It comes down to how much consequences should come from bad results. A playoff format decreases the number of consequences. You win and you are good. The reset will save you. That 16th at Long Beach doesn't carry on, but those victories at Iowa and Road America do. A driver doesn't want too many bad results and would rather have more good results than bad, but when the regular season is over that driver will be in the playoffs where one win can get you to the next round regardless of what happens in the other races in that round. 

Without a playoff system, a driver can win but that 25th-place finish at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is still something that cannot be overcome. One victory doesn't make up for the points lost in that one race. Even two victories might not be enough. A driver cannot never escape a bad result, the only hope is to lessen its significance with each successive event. 

A playoff provides an escape. Do we want that if it means more chances taken during races? Or does being the best mean more than just winning and disregarding most other results?

Champions From the Weekend
Mikel Azcona clinched the World Touring Car Cup championship with finishes of sixth and third at Jeddah.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Cristina Gutiérrez, Sébastien Loeb and Mikel Azcona, but did you know...

Nathanaël Berthon and Gilles Magnus split the World Touring Car Cup races from Jeddah.

Justin Grant won the Turkey Night Grand Prix from Ventura Raceway.

Coming Up This Weekend
Supercars finale from Adelaide.
The World Cup group stage will conclude with the knockout stage beginning next Saturday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

2022 Motorcycle Predictions: Revisited

Amazingly, this is the final predictions to revisit for the 2022 season. Each of the four sets have been picked over, from IndyCar to NASCAR, Formula One to sports cars. Now, we are onto motorcycle racing. There were a few tense championship battles across the two-wheel world this year. There were also a few first-time champions. Many races were compelling and there were ruthless battles taking place around the globe. We also got to return to some fantastic circuits after the global pandemic had prevented visits for the past two years. It was great to feel normal again. 

With that said, onto the predictions!

1. Two of the top three from 2021 do not finish in the top five of the 2022 championship

Two of the top three from 2021 finished first and second in 2022. Francesco Bagnaia took the championship on 265 points. Fabio Quartararo was second on 248 points. The two riders just swapped positions from 2021. 

As for Joan Mír, he had a rougher season. Six retirements and four missed races led to Mír finishing 15th in the championship on 87 points. Even if you adjust his points based on his points per start average, he would still be 15th. 

There wasn't enough of a push to knock Bagnaia or Quartararo down. Bagnaia overcame his own accidents to win the championship with the best bike on the grid. Quartararo dragged Yamaha to the front as the next best Yamaha rider in the championship was his teammate Franco Morbidelli in 19th, and Morbidelli had only two top ten finishes all season. The only other top ten result for Yamaha all season was Darryn Binder finishing tenth in the wet Mandalika round. 

Honda struggled as Marc Márquez continued to battle injury. Suzuki was all over the place after announcing 2022 would be its final season in MotoGP. All credit should go to Bagnaia and Quartararo for being outstanding riders and remaining on top. 

2. Álex Rins will retire from three races or fewer

This one was crushing. Rins started the season well. He was tied for the championship lead after the first five races. Then it started to go down hill. He was 19th in Jerez and he followed that with three consecutive retirements. That's it! He used up the allotment in the first nine races of the season! I needed him to have no retirements in the final 11 races for this prediction to be correct. 

He missed the German round but was back for Assen and finished tenth. He was seventh at Silverstone and picked up fastest lap. Eighth in Austria. Seventh in Misano. Ninth in Aragón. Things are holding firm as we get to the Asia-Pacific swing, which began at Motegi. 

Rins has a wheel rim issue and retires in Japan! 

Damn! To make it even worse, that was his only retirement in the final 11 races and Rins ended the season on a high note with two victories in the final three events to see Suzuki out of MotoGP. 

3. Aprilia scores at least 168 points in the manufactures' championship

Aprilia scored 248 points and finished third in the constructors' championship. It won its first race at Argentina with Aleix Espargaró, who was a championship contender until late in the season, ultimately finishing fourth with 212 points. Maverick Viñales was 11th in the championship and scored 122 points with three podium finishes. 

It was a great season for the Italian make, but results did take a step back in the later stages of the season. This was still a year to be proud of, but more strides must be made if it wants to contend for a championship. 

4. There will be at least one story about a Valentino Rossi comeback

We never really saw a "Valentino Rossi comeback" story pop up this season. Rossi ran the GT World Challenge Europe season and attended a few MotoGP races as team owner of the Mooney VR46 Racing Team, but he never was mentioned as a possible wild card rider for a round. 

5. American riders combine for at least two podium finishes

American riders combined for two podium finishes, but those finishes came from the same rider. Joe Roberts won at Portimão after weather interrupted the race and caused a red flag. Roberts was then second at Mugello. 

Cameron Beaubier had a few promising races get away from him. Beaubier was on pole position at Austin before being caught in an accident and he was contending for the lead at Portimão when he was caught in the rain and taken out of the race. He also finished fourth at Le Mans and had a promising season finale going in Valencia, setting fastest lap before falling out of the race. 

Rookie Sean Dylan Kelley had a tough rookie season, scoring only 5.5 points with points finishes at Portimão and the rain-shortened Buriram round. 

6. Jordi Torres wins multiple MotoE races

Torres entered the 2022 MotoE season as a two-time defending champion. However, in each of those seasons, he only won one race. This year, he didn't even finish on the podium and missed three races after an injury. 

World Superbike
7. Toprak Razgatlioglu will be responsible for 75% or fewer of Yamaha's victories

Razgatlioglu was responsible for all the Yamaha victories this season. The Turkish rider won 14 times, all 14 Yamaha victories. 

How close were the other Yamaha riders from winning? 

Andrea Locatelli was second in the second Assen race and third in the Mandalika SuperPole race. Garrett Gerloff had one podium finish, a third in the first Barcelona race. For this prediction to be correct and Razgatlioglu have the same number of victories, Yamaha would have had to won 19 races. 

8. There will be at least three weekends without a repeat winner

There wasn't one weekend where there were three different winners. This was surprising considering how quick Álvaro Bautista, Jonathan Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu were and how close those three were throughout the season. 

There were plenty of weekends where it could have happened. Razgatlioglu won pole position for Aragón and Assen, but won at neither round while Bautista and Rea each split the races. At Most, Magny-Cours and Portimão, Rea won pole position but Bautista and Razgatlioglu split those races. 

9. No Honda rider finishes in the top ten of the championship

Honda had two riders finish in the top ten of the championship Iker Lecuona was ninth in the championship despite missing the Mandalika round. Xavi Vierge was tenth in the championship. 

It was a year when Garrett Gerloff underperformed with Yamaha. BMW had multiple rides miss time. Honda did make strides this season. Lecuona had a podium result, but he also won a pole position at Barcelona. 

10. One of the riders on the Suzuka 8 Hours overall winner will finish the WSBK season with at least four victories

The winning riders for the Suzuka 8 Hours were Tetsuta Nagashima, Takumi Takahaski and Iker Lecuona. Nagashima and Takahaski are Japan-based rides. Lecuona competed in World Superbike, but didn't win a race and only had one podium finish all season.

This was close to coming true. Jonathan Rea was second with the Kawasaki Racing entry alongside Leon Hasam and Alex Lowes. 

World Supersport
11. There will be a notable complaint about the new regulations
I looked and I looked, and I didn't find anything that would fulfill this prediction. Yamaha still dominated this season, winning 21 of 24 races, but Triumph won for the first time ever in the series and MV Agusta won for the first time since the 2017 season opener. There were a few positives to draw from this season. 

12. The championship will be undecided entering the final race weekend

Dominique Aegerter clinched the championship in the penultimate round at Mandalika. Aegerter exited the weekend with a 103-point lead over Lorenzo Baldassarri entering Phillip Island. Aegerter won 16 of 24 races and stood on the podium 18 times. He did have a suspect weekend in the Czech Republic when he was excluded from the second race after feinting an injury in the first race in hopes of drawing a red flag after an accident. 

Two for 12. That is bad. Very bad. We end on a downer, but there is plenty of room for improvement and the next set of predictions are only a month away. Let's put these predictions behind us and look toward the future. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

2022 Formula One Predictions: Revisited

It is odd when mid-November feels like an early end to the Formula One season, but after the last two seasons extending into December due to the global pandemic, and the general trend of the season, we were getting more comfortable with December finishes. However, with the World Cup, Formula One knew it had to roll up its carpet sooner than recent years, and here we are a few days away from Thanksgiving, and with just over 100 days until the next grand prix, and a Formula One recently concluded. 

The season is over, but let's put a bow on 2022 and look at the predictions made just after Christmas about 11 months ago.

1. George Russell scores at least five victories

Wildly wrong. If you want an idea how these predictions are going to go, use this as a guide. 

Mercedes struggled with its new car. It struggled with porpoising early in the season. Mercedes wasn't making the power to match Red Bull and Ferrari. It was still the third best team on the grid and could fight for a podium position, but it couldn't consistently compete for race victories. 

It broke through in Brazil with Russell leading the way. Russell won the sprint race at Interlagos and set up a 1-2 start for Mercedes, its first front row lockout in the penultimate race of the season. Russell and Lewis Hamilton drove marvelously. Hamilton overcame contact early with Max Verstappen, but Russell went basically untouched and took his first career grand prix victory.

There were a few other close calls. Mercedes likely feels like Silverstone, Hungary and Zandvoort got away from them. There was even a chance of victory in Austin. 

Russell was the best driver for Mercedes for the first half of the season and him and Hamilton were about level in the second half of the year, but Russell wasn't close to five victories.

I still think this was a good year for Mercedes. It was disappointing on Mercedes' standards, but Russell opened the season with nine consecutive top five finishes, the longest streak this season. He had 19 top five finishes. Mercedes will right the ship. It was competitive and sniffing victories late in the season. It will breakthrough and should be more successful in 2023. 

2. Red Bull will be on the podium in fewer races

Red Bull had at least on podium finisher in 20 races. After having both cars retire in the closing laps in Bahrain, Red Bull then had a car on the podium in 19 consecutive races. They were the class of the field. There were a few other minor teething problems, but those were exceptions, not the rule for the 2022 season. 

Even when the team had to start at the back it found a way to get a car on the podium and even win the race. Red Bull somehow did better than 2021 and that was hard to fathom at the start of the season. 

3. McLaren and Ferrari will each have a victory
Wrong and Correct!

McLaren was shutout, McLaren had one podium finish all season, but Ferrari won four times and had the best car on the grid for the first portion of the season. But Ferrari wasted opportunities, coughing up race victories through reliability issues and poor strategy. 

With how dominant Red Bull was, it is hard to say Ferrari cost itself the championship, but this should not have been wrapped up as early as it was. It was never going to go until the finale but the World Drivers' Championship probably should have been decided at one of the North American rounds if Ferrari had its act together. 

4. Yuki Tsunoda will be dropped before the summer break

Tsunoda went the distance, running all 22 races. He was never in any real danger of being dropped midseason, though his inconsistency has led to some public critiques from the Red Bull camp, something the Red Bull group never does with a young driver. That was sarcasm in case you didn't pick up on it.

5. Valtteri Bottas will score more points than Alfa Romeo has scored in the last two seasons combined

Bottas just had to score 22 points. He scored 49 points and it only took him four races to exceed the 22-point threshold. 

He was sixth at Bahrain, netting him eight points. Two races later, he was eighth at Australia, four more points and 12 total. Then at Imola, he was seventh in the sprint race, scoring him two points, bringing his total to 14 points. In the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix the following day, Bottas was fifth, adding another ten points to his total and hitting 24 points. 

6. At least three races are won from outside a top five grid position

They all happened in the second half of the year and they all happened with Max Verstappen. 

Verstappen won from tenth at Hungary after power unit issues prevented him from running a flying lap in qualifying. A combination of virtual safety cars and pit strategy allowed Verstappen to climb to the lead and take the victory. 

To do himself one better, four better actually, in Belgium, Verstappen won from 14th on the grid. He set the fastest lap in qualifying and won pole position, but he had to start at the back of the field for exceeding the power unit element changes. However, with seven other drivers taking grid penalties, Verstappen still started 14th. An early safety car period bunched the field not long after the start and by lap 12, Verstappen was leading. He won by 17.841 seconds over his Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez.

Which brings us to Monza. Verstappen qualified second but again took a five-spot grid penalty for changing a power unit element. He quickly moved up the order and took the lead when Charles Leclerc stopped for tires. Leclerc would re-inherit the lead but went on a two-stop strategy, handing the lead back to Verstappen. Leclerc's chase failed, snuffed out when a safety car came out with eight laps to go due to Danial Ricciardo stopping on the edge of the circuit with an oil leak.

Looking closer, these victories all occurred in a four-race period. It was really this portion of the season where Verstappen ran away with the championship. This was a time for Leclerc to make a move and at least pressure Verstappen and Red Bull, but instead of making up ground, Verstappen only pulled further away.

7. Aston Martin averages at least eight points per race

Massively wrong. Aston Martin didn't come close to averaging eight points per race. That would have been a 176-point season and would have been good enough for fourth in the constructors' championship. 

Instead, Aston Martin scored 55 points, an average of 2.5 points per race. 

Sebastian Vettel had a few good days, showing signs he still has it as a driver. Lance Stroll... well, he also scored points. This was another step back for Aston Martin. It will shake up the lineup again with Fernando Alonso sliding into the second seats besides Stroll. Things could get better. They could become worse. 

8. There will be at least one nationality sweep of a podium

Our hopes laid with Britain and it could not produce, though it got two-thirds of the way there. 

It didn't help that only once did a British driver win in 2022, and it wasn't until the penultimate race. George Russell won the Brazilian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton made it a Mercedes 1-2 and a British 1-2. But what about Lando Norris?

Well, Norris retired, and we will enter the 2023 pushing nearly 40 years since the last time one nationality swept a podium in a Formula One race. 

9. Fewer than five times will a driver win races on consecutive weekends

But it happened on four occasions and could have very well happened five times. 

Max Verstappen was responsible for all four of these. Verstappen won at Azerbaijan and then he won seven days later in Canada. He won at France and Hungary before the summer break and then after the summer break he won in Belgium, Italy and Netherlands. He capped it off with victories on successive weekends in the United States and Canada. 

At the start of the year, Charles Leclerc and Verstappen split Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Verstappen and Sergio Pérez split Spain and Monaco. Ferrari was responsible for a sweep of successive weekends in Great Britain and Austria. In Asia, Pérez and Verstappen split Singapore and Japan, and to end the season Russell and Verstappen split Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

10. At least eight drivers score points in sprint qualifying
I have to remove this prediction off the board because when these predictions were made the thought was sprint races would still only pay point to the top three finishers. It was decided a month ahead of the season opener that the sprint races would pay points to the top eight finishers.

With the plan remaining that only three grand prix would have sprint races set up the starting order for the Sunday race, initially it was thought there would only be nine drivers scoring points through the sprint sessions. With eight drivers receiving points, 24 points paying opportunities were on the table. We would have eight drivers scoring points in the sprint races in the first race alone! 

I cannot take any credit for this prediction. It gets removed from the board.

11. Haas will score at least six points

Haas scored well more than six points. It scored 37 points. Haas wound up eighth in the Constructors' Championship, its best finish since 2018.

This prediction was made when Nikita Mazepin was still slated to be driving for the team. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, sanctions were handed out around the world, the Mazepin financial pipeline was closed off and Haas needed to find another driver. 

Enter Kevin Magnussen somewhat unexpectedly. Magnussen wasn't the reason for all the points, but he likely tallied a few more to the Haas total than had this team been Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.

In testing, Haas looked competitive. It wasn't a matter of if they would score six points. They would easily clear points. Did we expect Magnussen to end up fifth and score ten points in the first race at Bahrain? No! Who would have? 

Those kind of results were still uncommon this season. Most of the points results are finishes of eighth, ninth or tenth, just getting into the points, nothing all that spectacular. Schumacher did score 12 points on his own in 2022. Even without Magnussen Haas would have been fine and anything Mazepin could have produced would have been gravy for this prediction. 

Haas was a much more formidable entry this year and it rightfully took eighth in the constructors' championship. 

12. There will be fewer home race winners than in 2021

We only had one home race winner, and it was Max Verstappen at the Dutch Grand Prix. That was down from two home race winners in 2021. 

Daniel Ricciardo didn't win in Australia. Charles Leclerc did. 

Neither Carlos Sainz, Jr. nor Fernando Alonso won in Spain. Max Verstappen did.

Leclerc didn't win in Monaco. Sergio Pérez did.

Neither Lance Stroll nor Nicholas Latifi won in Canada. Verstappen did.

Neither Lewis Hamilton, George Russell nor Lando Norris won at Silverstone. Sainz did. 

Neither Pierre Gasly nor Esteban Ocon won in France. Verstappen did. 

Yuki Tunoda didn't win in Japan. Verstappen did.

Pérez didn't win in Mexico. Verstappen did. 

This works out to 5.5 out of 11. Somehow, a .500 record. This wasn't the greatest set of predictions. Some were optimistic, but what is wrong with optimism? It is better that way. But there is room for improvement. Simultaneously, there is just as much room to get worse. The tranquility of balance, unsatisfied and yet grateful. Such a human place to be. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Musings From the Weekend: Shooting Your Age

Formula Two may have had its most watched race in the United States, as Logan Sargeant did enough to finish fourth in the championship and earn the Super License points necessary to get him a license and assure himself a spot on the 2023 Formula One grid with Williams. Not bad for a driver who nearly was set to drive for A.J. Foyt Racing in IndyCar this season. Meanwhile, Red Bull may have won but look like losers in the end. Sebastian Vettel scored a point on his debut and he scored a point on his farewell. Fernando Alonso leaves one burning ship for another. A few other drivers are in limbo. Elsewhere, World Superbike ended its season at a spectacular place with spectacular conditions. Thanksgiving is approaching and the World Cup is here. Here is a rundown of what got me thinking.

Shooting Your Age
A few years ago, it somehow came up in passing drivers who have as many victories as their age, a motorsports equivalent of someone “shooting their age.” In golf terms, it is when someone can shoot an 18-hole round that matches or is lower than their age. Imagine a 65-year-old shooting a 65 on a golf course. 

Both are quite hard to do. Think that the average race car driver starts at a professional level at the age of 22. That means that driver is 22 victories away from reaching this achievement on day one. If the driver does not win in that first year, then he or she needs to win an additional race. If the driver only has five victories when he or she reaches the age of 30, then that means 25 victories are necessary to achieve this milestone. 

Plenty of drivers have reached this status, but there are some basic characteristics all these drivers share, especially for those in the top professional series. 

For starters, they need at least 18 victories. There aren't any 12-year-olds competing in a top series with a dozen victories to his or her name. The age of 18 is generally the minimum age to compete in these top series, and it is unlikely an 18-year-old will have 18 victories in that first season.

Any driver who reaches this distinction likely either has one or two significant victory totals in a season or consistently won a handful of races each year for a good portion of a career. When you are starting two decades in the hole you will need to win quickly to catch up. 

This is a holiday week and I wanted to do something fun, so tackling this curiosity to see who has shot their age in motorsports is what we are going to do. We aren’t going to do every series but we will do three notable ones. 

Let's start with IndyCar. 

A.J. Foyt reached 30 victories in the 1965 season when he was 30 years old. Foyt ended that season with 32 victories. From that point forward, Foyt had more victories than his age for the rest of his IndyCar career. 

Mario Andretti is an interesting case. At the end of the 1969 season, Andretti had 30 victories at 29 years of age. However, as he turned his focus to Formula One at the start of the 1970s, Andretti no longer shot his age after the 1971 season. It wasn't until 1985 when Andretti was back to shooting his age when he reached 45 victories at 45 years old. He would hold on shooting his age until 1991 when his age surpassed his 51 career victories. His 52nd and final victory came when he was 53 years old. 

Scott Dixon is shooting his age and has been since 2013. Dixon ended that season with 33 victories, matching his age. He won two races the following year, three races the year after that and two more in 2016, meaning at 36 years old his 40 victories had him covered until 2020. Of course, Dixon kept on winning and now has 53 victories at 42 years old. He is set until 2033. 

In 1996, Michael Andretti reached 33 victories at 33 years old and ended that season on 35 victories. Andretti remained ahead of his age through him stepping away from competition in 2003. But, when he returned in 2006, he was 44 years old and returning with 42 career victories. 

Will Power ended the 2022 season shooting his age and Power has been shooting it since the end of the 2020 season when he reached 39 career victories at 39 years old. He has only won one race in each of that last two seasons, but that has kept him on pace.

Sébastien Bourdais left Champ Car at the end of the 2007 season shooting his age. Bourdais was 28 years old and had 31 career victories. But when he returned in 2011, he was now 32 years and had 31 career victories. His 32nd career victory would not come until he was 35 years old and he never shot his age again.

In IndyCar, those are all the examples of a driver shooting his age. Six drivers did it, three of which ended their careers or are currently shooting their ages. 

None of the Unser's achieved it. Neither did Paul Tracy nor Dario Franchitti. Hélio Castroneves never reached it, nor did Rick Mears. 

One driver is close. Josef Newgarden will turn 32 years old next month and Newgarden has 25 career victories. Since joining Team Penske, he has averaged 3.6667 victories per season. At that rate, he will have 36 victories by the time he is 35 years old. Let's keep an eye on that around 2025. 

Moving onto Formula One...

Lewis Hamilton reached his age in victories at the 2014 Singapore Grand Prix, his 29th career victory. He ended that season with 33 career victories. SEVENTY VICTORIES LATER... Hamilton is set until 2088. He is set to shoot his age for the next 66 years and it only took him seven more seasons to build up such a buffer.

Before Hamilton, it was Michael Schumacher, who also reached his age in victories at 29 years old. For Schumacher, it was the 1998 Canadian Grand Prix and he ended that season on 33 career victories. My goodness the parallels are hair-raising. When Schumacher ended his career with Ferrari at the end of the 2006 season, he had 91 victories and was set for the next 54 years. 

Sebastian Vettel was a few years younger than Hamilton and Schumacher when he began shooting his age. Vettel was 25 years old when he won for the 25th time in his grand prix career at the 2012 Korean Grand Prix. Though he hasn't won for the last three seasons, Vettel leaves Formula One shooting his age and set until 2040.

Alain Prost was the first driver to shoot his age in Formula One history. At 33 years old, he won his 33rd grand prix at Estoril in 1988, and Prost ended that season with 35 victories. When his 51st victory occurred in the 1993 German Grand Prix, he was set through 2006.

Anything Prost could do, Ayrton Senna did as well. At 31 years old, Senna had his 31st victory come at the 1991 Hungarian Grand Prix. He ended that season on 33 victories. When he lost his life at 34 years old, Senna had 41 career victories. 

Which brings us to Max Verstappen. Verstappen is 25 years old. He entered the 2022 season with 20 career victories. He started shooting his age with his 24th victory at the Spanish Grand Prix this past May. He is set shooting his age until 2032. 

Fernando Alonso shot his age for a brief moment in time. When he won the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix, Alonso was 31 years old and had 31 career victories. A month later, he won for the 32nd time, only two months ahead of his 32nd birthday. However, Alonso hasn't won since and he ended the 2022 season nine victories from reaching his age. 

Seven Formula One drivers have reached their age in victories and only Alonso has done it but then gone on to lose pace.

With the NASCAR Cup Series, there are numerous drivers where the question is not if he ever shot his age, but when he started shooting his age. 

Richard Petty ended his NASCAR Cup career set on victories to match his age until 2137. When did Petty first start shooting his age? October 5, 1963 when his 26th victory occurred when he was 26 years old at Tar Heel Speedway, fittingly enough in his hometown of Randleman, North Carolina. Petty raced until he was 55 years old. He was set on having victories match his age through his driving career from May 13, 1967 onward and he was only 29 years old when he won that Rebel 400 at Darlington. 

With Petty, there is also David Pearson, whose 105 Cup victories would have him covered until 2039. However, Pearson reached his age in victories during the 1965 season, when he ended that year with 30 victories at 30 years old. The next season, Pearson won 16 times and ended with 46 victories. By the end of the 1969, he would be covered on victories through his final start at 51 years old at Michigan on August 17, 1986. 

Jeff Gordon was 25 years old when he won his 25th Cup race on June 8, 1997 at Pocono. Gordon's final start came when he was 45 years old in 2016. He reached 45 victories at 28 years old at Fontana in 1999. 

We could be here all day going through the NASCAR Cup drivers, but Bobby Allison started shooting his age with his 34th victory at Trenton on July 16, 1972, Darrell Waltrip was 34 when his 34th victory came at Pocono on July 26, 1981, Jimmie Johnson was 32 when his 32nd victory came at Texas on November 4, 2007 and Cale Yarborough was 37 when his 37th victory came at Richmond on September 12, 1976.

All four drivers were set for the rest of their careers. 

Dale Earnhardt hit his age when he was 38 years old and his 38th career victory was at Dover on September 17, 1989. Kyle Busch was 30 when he scored his 30th victory at Sonoma on June 28, 2015. Kevin Harvick's 42nd victory came when he was 42 years old on May 12, 2018 at Kansas. Rusty Wallace reached the mark when he was 38 years old at Dover on September 18, 1994. 

Lee Petty reached it when he was 45 years old. Petty's 45th victory was at Hickory on September 11, 1959. Ned Jarrett was 31 years old and won for the 31st time in the Cup Series on July 8, 1964 at Old Dominion Speedway. Junior Johnson was 33 years old and his 33rd victory was at Bowman Gray Stadium on August 22, 1964.

Tony Stewart had a fascinating time shooting his age. Stewart was 39 when his 39th victory occurred at Fontana on October 10, 2010. Then he turned 40 before he won again and his 40th victory came when he was 40 years old on September 19, 2011. Denny Hamlin was also 39 years old when he shot his age. Hamlin's 39th victory was on May 20, 2020 in a rain-shortened Darlington race.

Herb Thomas did it at 30 years old, his 30th victory coming in Jacksonville, Florida on March 7, 1954.

Buck Baker is a funny one, because he toed the line with shooting his age. Baker ended the 1958 season at 39 years old with 39 victories. He ended the 1959 season at 40 years old with 40 victories. He won twice in 1960, so ended that season with 42 victories at 41 years old and won once in 1961 to have 43 victories at 42 years old. But then he didn't win in 1962 before winning once in 1963 and twice in 1964 to end that season at 45 years old with 46 victories. He never won again after the 1964 season but continued until his final start was when he was 57 years old on October 10, 1976 at Charlotte. 

Bill Elliott shot his age for a brief period. Elliott's 36th victory came when he was 36 years old at Richmond on March 8, 1992. He turned 37 years old later that season and ended it with 39 career victories. His 40th victory came two years later when he was won the Southern 500, but he wouldn't win again until he was 46 years old. Elliott was 48 years old when his 44th and final Cup victory came. 

Tim Flock was the first driver to shoot his age in NASCAR history. During the 1955 season, Flock's 31st career victory came in Montgomery, Alabama on September 11. He was 31 years old. Flock's final start came when he was 37 and he had 39 career victories to his name. 

All in all, 20 NASCAR Cup drivers have shot their age at some point, 18 of which ended their careers or are still actively shooting their age. 

There are probably others around the world of motorsports, especially those on two wheels. Maybe we will investigate those series at a later date. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about... well no one, I haven't told you about any winners yet, but did you know...

Max Verstappen won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, his 15th victory of the season.

Liam Lawson and Ayumu Iwasa split the Formula Two races from Yas Marina.

Jonathan Rea (Race One) and Álvaro Bautista (SuperPole race and Race Two) split the World Superbike races from Phillip Island. Yari Montella and Dominique Aegerter split the World Supersport races.

Wing Chung Chang won the 69th Macau Grand Prix.

Coming Up This Weekend
The final World Touring Car Cup round from the Jeddah circuit in Saudi Arabia.
The World Cup continues.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

CART's Funeral: 20 Years Later

Most season finales are jubilant affairs. 

A champion could be decided. It is the last chance for a victory. Someone will head into the offseason riding a wave of momentum for months. Some drivers are moving on and are excited about the future. A new schedule and possibly a new car could be awaiting. Even if one cannot find joy in any of those things, they can at least take satisfaction in a season ending and vacation time increasing. There will be more time spent at home and less time spent at a racetrack. 

In 2002, CART ended its season with a return to Mexico City for the first time in 21 years around the historic Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Cristiano da Matta had clinched the championship with three races remaining, but entering the finale, five different drivers had won the prior five races. Ten points covered second through fourth in the championship and $500,000 went to the championship runner-up. CART had just completed the fastest 500-mile race in history two weeks prior at Fontana. There were 44 lead changes.

Most season finale are jubilant affairs. This one wasn’t.

In Mexico City, Tony Kanaan couldn't smile. Christian Fittipaldi had a sense of melancholy. Dario Franchitti didn't mince his words to Robin Miller ahead of the race. 

"I feel like we're at a funeral this weekend."

While looking over past races working on Kenny Bräck's career retrospective, Mexico City was Bräck's final race in CART and his final race with Chip Ganassi Racing. Bräck won, but this race was a cornerstone of The Split era, one we don't really speak about.

Significant change was upon the North American open-wheel racing world. Team Penske had already joined the Indy Racing League for the full season in 2002, but Newman-Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Green, Forsythe Racing, Walker Racing and Mo Nunn Racing were still in CART. It wouldn't last long. After seven seasons, the teams, Honda and Toyota could not continue spending at CART levels while not having the Indianapolis 500 as a tentpole event on its schedule. Honda and Toyota were moving to the IRL in 2003, and they were bringing Ganassi, Nunn and Team Green, which Michael Andretti had just purchased majority of the organization, along with them. 

This wasn't a good period for North American open-wheel racing, but when you look closer at the CART grid for the Mexico City finale, it rivals many other strong IndyCar grids in recent history. 

Three future Indianapolis 500 winners and four future champions were on this grid. There were also three past champions when you include da Matta, and one previous Indianapolis 500 winner. Fifteen of the 19 starters would win at least once in North American open-wheel racing, whether it be in CART, Champ Car or the Indy Racing League. There were also three Formula One experienced drivers competing that day. Little did anyone know at the time, there was also a future world champion and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner in this field, and to date, Mexico City is his only IndyCar start.

Da Matta was heading to Formula One, but most of the rest of the grid were heading to the IRL. Fittipaldi, who expressed great sadness in the loss of talent, was moving to NASCAR with Petty Enterprises. Like kids moving across country leaving friends and the familiarity of a neighborhood behind, these drivers weren't thrilled for what laid ahead. Everyone knew the reason for the move. 

"Do we want to leave CART? Hell no, but this is a business and I'm just a hired gun," Kanaan told Miller. 

Twenty years ago today, CART lined up for its season finale. In contemporary IndyCar, mid-November feels like a strange time for a season finale, but these were different times, and things would change as soon as the checkered flag was unfurled. 

What was this race like? 

We don't see nearly 60% of a professional motorsports series grid leave at the end of a season. The closest comparison we can make to what happened to CART at the end of the 2002 season is when a sports team has a lot of expiring contracts occurring simultaneously and it is already up against a salary cap, meaning influential players will have to be let go and the roster will look much different the following season. 

The only difference is these aren't players spreading out to nine or ten different teams around a league. These were drivers leaving for a rival series competing at different tracks for the attention of the same audience. These were sides with philosophical differences in what North American open-wheel racing should look like and it all revolved around one of the most historic races in the world. 

If it was a funeral, it was quite a turnout. An estimated 300,000 spectators showed up for the weekend, the largest sporting event in Mexico's history at the time. 

At the top of the broadcast, it was subtly noted many drivers would be moving on from CART after this race. Future destinations were not explicitly stated.

Kanaan took the lead at the start after Bruno Junqueira missed turn one while Paul Tracy and Jimmy Vasser also spun off at the first corner. Luis Díaz lost his engine on the second lap under caution. It was Díaz's debut in place of an injured Adrian Fernández. 

Everyone expressed a desire to win this race. All 42 of Michael Andretti's victories came in CART. Andretti had won at Long Beach earlier in the year. Fittipaldi was two years removed from his second career victory.

Outside of Díaz's blow up and Mario Domínguez suffering a suspension failure, the first half of the race was rather lackluster. Kanaan sped away in the lead. Challenges for position were few. Debutant André Lotterer had fastest lap in the early portions of the race driving for Dale Coyne Racing. Lotterer had gained seven spots prior to his first pit stop, running ahead of Scott Dixon.

The race was turned upside down during the second pit window. Kanaan exited his pit box with the fuel hose still attached to the car, causing a frantic scene of water being tossed on crew members as the invisible flames of burning methanol grew. Franchitti leaped to the lead after the incident. Kanaan remained in the race and in second position but would soon have to serve a drive-through penalty. While his crew members were under medical supervision, Mo Nunn Racing drafted in a few crew members from Díaz's team for the final pit stop.

In his 309th CART start, Andretti ran wide exiting turn 13 and spun across the track into the barrier. This caution occurred right when the final pit window opened, and most teams took advantage of the opportunity. Franchitti and Fittipaldi each lost positions after slow stops. Franchitti slid through his pit stall. Fittipaldi's right rear tire changer lost the wheel nut. Kanaan also lost time, struggling for grip on the damp pavement left from the clean up after his previous stop.

Kenny Bräck gained four spots and emerged ahead of the rest of the field. 

Michel Jourdain, Jr. stayed out on an alternate strategy, but would have to make his final stop by lap 61. Jourdain drew a large cheer from his home crowd when he led the field to the restart. With Jourdain's looming pit stop, the battle would be between Bräck and champion-elect da Matta in the closing laps. 

The party ended after nine laps in the lead for Jourdain, and he returned to the circuit in 14th. There were only 12 laps remaining when Bräck took the lead. The Swede opened some space between him and da Matta. In the closing laps, Fittipaldi lost his engine while running in fifth. The Fittipaldi family had been represented in 294 of 307 CART races from the 1984 season finale held in the Caesars Palace parking lot through that Mexico City finale. It would be nearly 17 years until a Fittipaldi competed in another IndyCar race. 

The late start time meant long shadows crept over the circuit in the final laps. Bräck was untouched over those final circuits, taking his first and what turn out to be his only road or street course victory in IndyCar competition. Da Matta capped off his championship season with a runner-up result. Bruno Junqueira made it a double Ganassi podium finish.

There were celebrations when this was over. It was Bräck’s first victory of the season after a trying year with Ganassi. However, there was a somberness over the rest of the field. Da Matta had already clinched the title. His reaction was muted, more relieved the season was over. For others, it was sinking in this would be it. They were about to enter an unknown future.

Bob Varsha described many bittersweet moments during the post-race coverage. Michael Andretti received a farewell montage where Varsha acknowledged that Andretti's future as an IRL team owner was considered treasonous by some, but Varsha stated it wasn't and Andretti deserved a graceful exit.

Considering the shift that was happening and the landscape around the series, it is hard to fathom why The Split continued for another five seasons. It was announced that this was the best attended CART season with 2.684 million attendees over the 19-race season. The Mexico City finale drew 300,000 people over the weekend. CART had a Thanksgiving Day marathon on Speed Channel reshowing all its races from that season that extended into that following Friday night. CART even had a weekly Friday night show. 

The end of 2002 should have been a reckoning point for unity. CART was losing but the IRL wasn’t gaining. There were strong events around the globe. Television coverage was still prominent. Open-wheel racing still had a healthy audience, but both sides had to know it would be better to be together than split. Both were losing out. Unfortunately, even if they thought it, both continued going in separate directions. 

This was a bad portion of The Split. Both sides had their heels dug in. Each would lose ground from this point forward. In four years, both series would be down to one engine manufacture and one chassis supplier apiece. The sensational crowd in Mexico City would shrink every year until it was the final Champ Car race in 2007 prior to reunification with the IRL for the 2008 season. Many races shrunk over this time. We are still experiencing the aftereffects of this period. 

Overall attendance in 2022 didn't come close to the 2.684 million attendees for that 2002 CART season. Outside of the Indianapolis 500, no other race is drawing 300,000 people for an entire weekend. Come to think of it, I am not sure any other races draw 100,000 people for a weekend. Perhaps Long Beach, and maybe Road America, though that could be a stretch. 

Though those breathtaking crowds are no longer a regular thing, IndyCar has a healthy grid and exciting racing. Some argue this could be the best it has ever been in terms of talent. Champions from different disciplines across the world are coming to IndyCar. Nearly every race has a dozen potential winners. We are seeing results that were unthinkable 20 years ago. 

We have worked through The Split. No one is expressing sour grapes anymore. It has been accepted as part of IndyCar's history as we enjoy the present but remain pensive about the future. That outlook is engrained in us because of this period.

Twenty years ago, a significant flip occurred in The Split that would shape where IndyCar is at today. IndyCar has found its legs, but the strength isn't close to what it once was. It was a funeral of sorts on this day in 2002, but IndyCar has found life and continues onward hoping for just a taste of its former glory.   

2002 Gran Premio Telmex-Gigante Finishing Order
1. Kenny Bräck
Afterward: Bräck moved to the IRL in 2003 with Rahal Letterman Racing but suffered a career-altering accident in the season finale at Texas. He would return for the 2005 Indianapolis 500, his final IndyCar start. Mexico City was the final victory of his IndyCar career.

2. Cristiano da Matta
Afterward: Da Matta spent just over a season and a half in Formula One with Toyota. His best finish was sixth. He returned to Champ Car in 2005 and won his fourth race back at Portland. He suffered a career-altering accident in 2006 when he hit a deer while testing at Road America. He returned to racing and made multiple sports car starts but his final Champ Car race was at San Jose in 2006.

3. Bruno Junqueira
Afterward: Junquiera was one of eight drivers in the 2002 season finale that was on the grid for the 2003 CART season opener. He moved to Newman-Haas Racing for the 2003 season and remained with the team through 2006. After finishing runner-up in the 2002 championship, he repeated that result the following two seasons. Still on the grid when reunification occurred, Junqueira moved with Dale Coyne Racing for one full season before becoming a part-time IndyCar driver until the 2012 season while competing mostly in sports cars. Junqueira currently works in real estate in South Florida. 

4. Patrick Carpentier
Afterward: Carpentier remained in CART/Champ Car through the 2004 season. He moved to the IRL with Cheever Racing in 2005 before moving to NASCAR Cup competition in 2008. He came close to victories in NASCAR's second division. He made one final IndyCar appearance attempting to make the 2011 Indianapolis 500 with Dragon Racing in place of Scott Speed, but Carpentier spun during practice, ending his attempt.

5. Dario Franchitti
Afterward: Franchitti won four IndyCar championships and three Indianapolis 500s. He spent one season competing in NASCAR in 2008, coincidentally against Carpentier in many circumstances. Franchitti's IndyCar career ended after an accident in the second race of the 2013 Houston doubleheader. He remains an active advisor for Chip Ganassi Racing while also being the color commentary for Formula E's world feed coverage. 

6. Tora Takagi
Afterward: Takagi moved to the IRL with Mo Nunn Racing and competed for two seasons. He was 2003 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after finishing fifth and he was third at Texas that season. In 2005, he returned to Japan to compete in Formula Nippon for three more seasons. 

7. Scott Dixon
Afterward: Dixon moved to the IRL in 2003 and won his first race in the series. He has won 52 races and six championships since the 2002 Mexico City race, putting him second all-time in both categories. Dixon is regarded as one of the greatest drivers in IndyCar history.

8. Tony Kanaan
Afterward: Kanaan won the 2004 IRL championship while completing every lap, the first driver to compete every lap in a season. He was a regular winner in the IRL and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013. He continues to compete in IndyCar and will enter the 2023 Indianapolis 500 in a fourth entry for Arrow McLaren SP.

9. Oriol Servià
Afterward: Servià remained in CART/Champ Car, scoring his only career victory in 2005 at Montreal driving for Newman-Haas Racing as a replacement for the injured Junqueira. He continued as an IndyCar regular through the 2013 season and he was fourth in the 2011 championship driving in what turned out to be Newman-Haas Racing’s final season. Servià’s last start was the 2019 Indianapolis 500. 

10. Alex Tagliani
Afterward: Tagliani would win at Road America in 2004, his only IndyCar victory. He moved to the IRL and started his own team before selling it to Sam Schmidt, which would later become Arrow McLaren SP. Tagliani won pole position for the 2011 Indianapolis 500. His final IndyCar start was the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Since 2014, he has been a full-time NASCAR Canada Series competitor where he has won nine times and has contended for multiple championships. 

11. Jimmy Vasser
Afterward: Vasser continued as a full-time competitor through the 2005 season and became a part owner in PKV Racing. His victory at Fontana two weeks prior to the 2002 Mexico City final was his final IndyCar victory. His final start was the 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach, the final Champ Car race, as it was a one-off held during the unified 2008 IndyCar Series season. Vasser remained a car owner after reunification and won the 2013 Indianapolis 500 with Kanaan as his driver. Vasser remained involved owning an IndyCar through the 2020 season and has since operated the Lexus GT3 program in IMSA with partner James Sullivan. 

12. André Lotterer
Afterward: Lotterer started competing in Japan in 2003 where he finished second in the Formula Nippon championship. He was full-time in Japan, competing in Formula Nippon and Super GT until the 2011 season. He won the 2011 Formula Nippon championshi and won two Super GT GT500 championship. He became an Audi factory driver where he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times and the 2012 World Endurance Drivers' Championship. His lone Formula One start came in the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix with Caterham. He completed one lap. Since 2017, he has been competing in Formula E.

13. Michel Jourdain, Jr.
Afterward: Jourdain, Jr. remained in CART/Champ Car until 2004. He won the 2003 Milwaukee race in his 129th start, and it remains the most starts before a first career victory. He won later that season in Montreal and finished third in the championship. In 2005, he started competing in NASCAR's second division. He competed full-time in the World Touring Car Championship and even competed in a few World Rally Championship events. In 2012, Jourdain, Jr. returned to the Indianapolis 500 and qualified 16 years after his first Indianapolis 500 start. In 2013, Jourdain, Jr. failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, his final IndyCar appearance. 

14. Shinji Nakano
Afterward: Nakano made two IRL starts in 2003. He finished 11th at Motegi and 14th in the Indianapolis 500. He remained active in sports car racing until 2016, making nine starts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. His best overall finish was 14th in 2011 driving an LMP2 entry.

15. Christian Fittipaldi
Afterward: Fittipaldi only made 16 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series. His best finish was 24th at Pocono in July 2003. He moved to sports car racing in 2004 and won the 24 Hours of Daytona. He won the 24 Hours of Daytona twice more as well as the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2015 and he won the IMSA Prototype championship in 2014 and 2015 driving for Action Express Racing. 

16. Paul Tracy
Afterward: Tracy moved to Forsythe Racing for the 2003 CART season and won the championship. He remained with Forsythe through the 2007 season where he won five more races. In 2008, after reunification was announce, Gerry Forsythe announced he would not move his team to the unified series, leaving Tracy without a ride. He was 11th at Long Beach in 2008 and made a one-off later that season driving for Tony George's Vision Racing at Edmonton, where he finished fourth. Tracy remained part-time through the 2011 season. His final appearance was the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas, which was canceled after Dan Wheldon's fatal accident on lap 11.

17. Michael Andretti
Afterward: As a driver, made six more starts after the 2002 season finale. He was third in the 2006 Indianapolis 500 behind Sam Hornish, Jr. and his son Marco Andretti. His final start was the 2007 Indianapolis 500. As a car owner, Andretti has won five Indianapolis 500s and four IndyCar championships. The team remains active with four IndyCar entries as well as competing in IMSA, Formula E, Indy Lights, Extreme E and Supercars. The Andretti Autosport looks to expand its operation into Formula One in the near future.

18. Mario Domínguez
Afterward: Domínguez stayed in CART/Champ Car through the 2007 season where he competed for HVM Racing, Forsythe, Dale Coyne Racing, Rocketsports and Pacific Coast Motorsports. In 2008, Domínguez ran part-time with PCM, where the team was third at Long Beach. He failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 but ran six more races.

19. Luis Díaz
Afterward: Díaz would return for the 2003 Mexico City CART race. His race lasted 12 laps before retiring due to a mechanical issue. He drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Grand-Am Daytona Prototype class with Scott Pruett as his co-driver in 2005 and 2006. The pairing won five times, including the 2006 race in Mexico City. In 2007, Díaz moved to the American Le Mans Series to be Adrian Fernández's co-driver in the LMP2 class. They won the 2009 ALMS LMP2 championship. He made one start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012 driving an LMP2 car for Level 5 Motorsports.